# Difference between revisions of "1276: Angular Size"

 Angular Size Title text: If the celestial sphere were mapped to the Earth's surface, astronomy would get a LOT easier; you'd just need a magnifying glass.

## Explanation

 This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: Please include the reason why this explanation is incomplete, like this: {{incomplete|reason}}If you can address this issue, please edit the page! Thanks.

This comic is a comparison of the angular diameters (or apparent diameter) of various celestial objects at the surface of the earth relative to a vertex at the center of the Earth as diagrammed in the opening panel. The objects' scales are compared to actual objects on earth. Each size given is for the object at its closest approach to earth.

London's M25 motorway is around 60 km (35 miles) across, a soccer field is about 100 meters long, a ping pong table is 274 centimeters long, a laptop is about 35 centimeters across, the tilde symbol on a keyboard is about 5 millimeters long, and a cell of E. coli is about 2 microns long.

A simple formula can be used to find the size on earth of a celestial object when the size of and distance to the object is known. This is done by taking the radius of the earth, multiplying by the diameter of the object, and dividing by the distance to the object from the center of the earth.

The space objects referenced in the panels are:

• The Sun and the Moon, and also the open cluster Messier 25, have approximately the same size (around 0.5 degrees of arc) when seen from the Earth.
• Phobos and Deimos are the moons of Mars. Eris is another dwarf planet. R Doradus and Betelgeuse are giant stars, respectively around 180 and 640 light-years away. R Doradus is the star with the largest apparent diameter (other than the sun, of course).

The title text states that astronomy would be much easier if the celestial sphere were mapped to the earth - like a giant globe. Due to the distance of the stars you would need a powerful microscope to see the very tiny areas representing distant stars instead of a powerful telescope to see huge distances.

Approximate values for the mappings to the Earth sphere (based on mean Earth radius at 6,371.0 km):

Panel Object Distance Diameter Size at Earth sphere
Panel 1 Sun 149,600,000 km 1,392,684 km 59.3 km
Moon Semi-major axis 384,399 km 3,476.28 km 57.6 km
Moon Perigee 363,295 km 3,476.28 km 60.9 km
Messier 25 2,100 light-years
19.867 × 10^15 km
19 light-years
179.753 × 10^12 km
57.6 km
Panel 2 Mercury closest approach 92 million km 4,879.4 km 0.34 km
Venus closest approach 41 million km 12.103.6 km 1.9 km
Mars closest approach 56 million km 6,792.4 km 0.77 km
Jupiter 778,547,200 km 139,822 km 1.14 km
Saturn 1,433,449,370 km 120,536 km 0.54 km
Uranus 2,876,679,082 km 51,118 km 0.11 km
Neptune 4,503,443,661 km 49,528 km 0.07 km
Panel 3 Io 778,547,200 km 3,643 km 29.8 m
Europa 778,547,200 km 3,122 km 25.5 m
Ganymede 778,547,200 km 5,262 km 43.1 m
Callisto 778,547,200 km 4,821 km 39.5 m
Titan 1,433,449,370 km 5,150 km 22.9
Triton 4,503,443,661 km 2,705.2 km 3.8 m
Ceres Perihelion 380,995,855 km 974.6 km 16.3 m
Pluto Perihelion 4,437,000,000 km 2,306 km 3.3 m
Panel 4 Phobos 56 million km 26.8 × 22.4 × 18.4 km 3.05 m
Deimos 56 million km 15 × 12.2 × 10.4 km 1.71 m
Eris Perihelion 5.723 × 10^9 km 2326 km 2.59 m
Eris Aphelion 14.602 × 10^9 km 2326 km 1.01 m
Betelguse 643 ± 146 light-years
max. 7.464 × 10^15 km
max. 1.671 × 10^9 km
1.43 m
R Doradus 178 ± 10 light-years
max. 1.778 × 10^15 km
max. 0.515 × 10^9 km
1.85 m
Panel 5 4942 Munroe 2.2 AU (1.2 AU closest to earth, 179.4 × 10^6 km) 9-10 km 35.5 cm
Proxima Centauri 4.243 light-years
40.142 × 10^12 km
0.196 × 10^6 km
3.11 cm
Barnard's Star 5.980 light-years
56.574 × 10^12 km
0.272 × 10^6 km
3.06 cm
Alpha Centauri B 4.366 light-years
41.305 × 10^12 km
1.204 × 10^6 km
18.6 cm
Sirius 8.6 light-years
81.362 × 10^12 km
2.382 × 10^6 km
18.7 cm
Alpha Centauri A 4.366 light-years
41.305 × 10^12 km
1.708 × 10^6 km
26.3 cm
Panel 6 HD 189733 b 63 light-years
596.024 × 10^12 km
159,117 km
1.7 mm
Gliese 581 g 20.3 light-years
192.052 × 10^12 km
max. 25.484 km
0.85 µm
Gliese 581 (Parent star) 20.3 light-years
192.052 × 10^12 km
403,878 km
1.34 cm
Black Hole at the center of our Galaxy 25,900 light-years
245.032 × 10^15 km
Mass 4.31 × 10^6:
12.684 × 10^6 km
0.33 mm
Gliese 667 Cc 22.7 light-years
214.757 × 10^12 km
25.484 km
0.76 µm
Gliese 667 (Parent star) 22.7 light-years
214.757 × 10^12 km
584,927 km
1.74 cm
HD 20794 c (Parent star) 20 light-years
189.214 × 10^12 km
1,281,269 km
4.31 cm
Tau Ceti C (Parent star) 11.905 light-years
112.629 × 10^12 km
1,104,398 km
6.25 cm
Koi-1686.01 (Parent star) 1033.8 light-years
9.780 × 10^15 km
724,195 km
0.47 mm
Panel 7 Voyager probes (Voyager 1 at 126.10 AU) 1.886×10^10 km 20 meters (with antennas) 6.76 µm

# Discussion

What is the meaning of "football field" in panel #2? --Kevang (talk) 04:50, 11 October 2013 (UTC)

I was wondering the same thing. Probably misplaced text. Irino. (talk) 05:49, 11 October 2013 (UTC)
It does seem to be misplaced, but if that's the only glitch, this is the only panel without a unique reference object. "20 football pitches long" isn't all that easy to grasp. jameslucas (" " / +) 09:09, 11 October 2013 (UTC)
The image is fixed by Randall. I did an update here.--Dgbrt (talk) 11:28, 11 October 2013 (UTC)
Well, that's a letdown. I'm surprised Randall didn't use Heathrow. jameslucas (" " / +) 13:42, 11 October 2013 (UTC)

I haven't done any lookups or maths to check these, but give the size of these as "stars" in the sky, everything from panel 2 onwards seems to me to be an order of magnitude or two too large. Mark Hurd (talk) 05:17, 11 October 2013 (UTC)

Not really. You see the stars and planets as points because their angular size is lower than your eyes' resolution. They have measurable (or, in case of really distant or small objects, computable) angular sizes. For stars etc. these angular sizes are really small - but Earth is quite big, so if you cut a portion of a sphere the radius of Earth corresponding to these small solid angles, you get sizable areas. I haven't checked Randall's math, but I'd rather believe his results. If it is non-intuitive for you consider the Sun and Moon example - when observed by naked eye, the Moon looks for you as being the size of a dime held up in your hand - and yet it's shadow during an eclipse covers quite an area of Earth's surface. It is true that sizes of some of these "footprints" are quite surprising compared to other ones. 89.174.214.74 08:55, 11 October 2013 (UTC)
Definitely surprising. I'll put faith in Randall doing his math correctly, but still needed to check on a couple of these because they did elicit a "What? No. Really? Can't be." reaction. Using the formula described in the Explanation above, for Venus I get 12742 km (Earth radius) * 12104 km (Venus diameter) / 38000000 (shortest distance to Venus) = 2.03 km.
Hard to picture that something that is such a small dot in the sky is actually directly over such a large patch of ground. But there you are.

67.51.59.66 17:11, 11 October 2013 (UTC)

The question that sprung to my mind was, which distance is he using for the planets and asteroids, since those vary hugely depending on where objects are relative to each other along their orbits. Is he going with closest approach, maybe? Or the distance that we happen to be at just this instant? --Rmharman (talk) 21:42, 11 October 2013 (UTC)
I just checked for Deimos, and got to ~50 mio km, so that´d be the closest approach. --Wilberforce (talk) 13:24, 13 October 2013 (UTC)

Does someone know how to use LaTeX formulas? And if so, can they translate my formula into something more pleasing to the eye? Irino. (talk) 05:49, 11 October 2013 (UTC)

According to the wikipedia page, the M25 is 117 miles long. That sounds more like "37 miles across" to me. Kaa-ching (talk) 08:46, 11 October 2013 (UTC)

it originally stated 15 miles, someone has fixed it now. Thanks! Kaa-ching (talk) 11:35, 11 October 2013 (UTC)

Neither the sun or moon, nor Messier 25 (declination -19°) can ever culminate in the zenith over London. :-( Admittedly, Townsville, Australia would be sort of overwhelmed by M25. --129.13.72.198 11:27, 11 October 2013 (UTC)

M25 is a reference to the highway that surrounds London, not the Messier object, which is probably nowhere near the angular size of the moon. 65.129.214.100 15:17, 11 October 2013 (UTC)
Why would Randall choose London, if it wasn´t for the obvious disambiguity of the name M25? ----Wilberforce (talk) 12:33, 13 October 2013 (UTC)

Does anyone know why the exoplanet "HD 189733 b" is labled as "Permadeath" ? Same question for the other weird names in the same pannel (the "tilde on keyboard" one) ? Jahvascriptmaniac (talk) 11:32, 11 October 2013 (UTC)

A reference to Exoplanet Names. Squornshellous Beta (talk) 12:08, 11 October 2013 (UTC)

If you were looking from the center of the earth, as the situation suggests, wouldn't the M25 be reversed, east-to-west, as you look at the sun and the moon?--76.105.133.220 16:09, 11 October 2013 (UTC)

I visualize it as looking down on Earth, with the "shadow" of the celestial object on top of the M25/soccer field/laptop/etc. 67.51.59.66 17:02, 11 October 2013 (UTC)

Has anyone noticed that Voyager 1 and 2 look like viruses? Kind of funny considering they're next to E. Coli... StelarCF (talk) 17:54, 11 October 2013 (UTC)

Yeah, I thought that too. It's a happy thought. Why, you ask? Well, with vastly diminished (or - in the course of time - zero) output from RTG power sources, they're like weakened (or inactivated) viruses - that we've sent out to the rest of the Universe, to any other intelligent lifeforms that may find them. What does that remind you of?
VACCINES! We've vaccinated aliens to the human condition :D To the Earthly condition even.
[PS - that's a happy thought because I choose to interpret from a cross-contamination standpoint. Which, in this case, allows them to observe us in our own locale, and establish our intrinsic nature - before a two-way interaction with us, in 'shared space' :P, and observing us through the medium of those interactions.] 220.224.246.97 18:46, 11 October 2013 (UTC)

Does "Explain XKCD" installation of MediaWiki has MathJax [plugin] installed for writing mathematics formulas? --JakubNarebski (talk) 08:15, 12 October 2013 (UTC)

Too bad he didn't do the Pleiades. I mean, instead of using the Vatican, he could have used something geeky: Bletchley Park or something (though that's probably not big enough). Homunq (talk) 14:11, 12 October 2013 (UTC)

Panel 6 (extrasolar planets)

My table doesn't really match the image. An earth sized Planet would be at some micrometer, their hosting stars are about some centimeter. Who is wrong? Me or Randall?--Dgbrt (talk) 19:49, 13 October 2013 (UTC)

Is it just me or is the laptop a MacBook Pro? Xyz (talk) 13:55, 14 October 2013 (UTC)

I'm a bit disappointed by the lack of extragalactical objects. Or did I miss something? Starblue (talk) 08:52, 17 October 2013 (UTC)