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Science, Art and Data Visualisation

Solar System Vortex

I honestly don't care about this, but I do care somewhat about hits. Which for some reason, this generates. So in this February 2024 post-restoration phase, I'm keeping this. 

The following famous animation purports to show the motion of the Solar System through space :

Which, contrary to a famous rebuttal, it actually does a pretty good job of doing. The size of the planets and their orbits aren't to scale of course, but otherwise they'd be invisible. However, I can't see any suggestion (despite what Phil Plait says) that the Sun is "leading" the planets, which would be truly nonsensical (possibly it's mentioned somewhere on the author's website, but it's definitely not explicit in the video).

Another major error that Plait points out is that the planets are not inclined at the correct angle to the direction of travel. This is definitely true, but in fact it makes very little difference indeed to the overall appearance. I made my own (crappy) version to illustrate this, using only the inner planets (the outer planets move much more slowly) :

So basically the animation isn't massively inaccurate. Unfortunately, as I describe in some detail on my blog, the minor inaccuracies result from some really very impressive misunderstandings. Such as it being impossible for the planets to be on inclined orbits (which, quite simply, makes no sense), the Fibonacci sequence being a fingerprint of God (yeeeeeah) and that an alternative (read : wacko) model of the Solar System is better than the standard one because it means we're all going on a "journey". Well, as you can see in my version, we're doing that anyway ! No need for pseudoscience here !

My overall conclusion is that the video is basically fine, but after reading at some length the source material of the author's alternative model, this has to be more by luck than judgement. The planets do indeed trace out helical paths through space. The fact that the author believes this to be the result of a truly bizarre alternative model (and if you want to discover just how bizarre, have a look at this) is, thankfully, just not that important to the end result.

POSTSCRIPT : I had an extremely pleasant email exchange with the original author, who is now no longer seeking to promote any wacky ideas with his video. His latest effort shows the motion of the Solar System according to entirely conventional models – and he does a bang-up job too. You can read our full discussion here. Sometimes – just sometimes – everybody wins.