Essay 9: 06/15/04: Astronomy,
Physics
The Solar System on its Side

Uniformed decision making and personal bias has caused those before us to erect a
paradigm for viewing the world in which we live, that is both confusing and wrong.  In order
to create a more realistic and intuitive model, I suggest that we turn the world, and the entire
solar system on their respective sides.

To this day we use a mapping system that places one hemisphere on top of the other.
When assuming the task of mapping out our planet, northerners decided to portray the
world in a way that would situate their home countries on the top of the world, instead of on
the bottom.  This biased portrayal stuck and it is one that we use today in maps throughout
the world.  

Recognizing this cartographical bias can help us create a more intelligent, more informed
view of something that is slightly more macroscopic (and slightly less weighed down by the
restrictions of modern use and centuries of tradition) - the conceptual model of our solar
system.

Because this biased portrayal has become standard in maps and text books, modern
literature envisions the globe as well as the solar system in this same frame of reference.  
Now I know that it would be near impossible to create a viable plan to change all of the
maps in the world.  But I do think that we should change our pictorial and mental
representations of the solar system.

The 9 planets that orbit around the sun, lie in almost the same plane.  We normally view this
plane as horizontal because we see the North pole as the top of our planet and the South
pole as the bottom.  Consistently interpreting this plane as horizontal, as all text books do,
is quite limiting.  

In outer space, there is no up or down, no right or left.  Because of the counterintuitive
geometry of our universe (which is somewhat clarified by the cosmological principle) there
are no unchanging points of reference.   

If we were to represent the plane that the planets orbit around the sun as a vertical disk
instead of as a horizontal one, we would do more than just relieve ourselves of a needless,
biased relic, we would also represent the bodies in our solar system in a way that provides
a more realistic look at the way gravity affects the planets and the sun.

Most people are somewhat confused about how gravity both holds us to the earth’s surface
and pulls us into orbit around the sun.  By always portraying the solar system in the same
way (horizontally), authors and illustrators add to the confusion of students and readers
alike.

This proposed, vertical model shows no bias, and it is less confusing to people that are
trying to understand gravity, motion and the dynamics at play in our solar system.  This new
model is slightly more abstract, but the universe is abstract.  Teaching both models will help
people understand that both are right and that there is no correct orientation in our solar
system, or in our universe.

Scientists such as Ptolemy, Gallileo and Copernicus have been trying to formulate a
conceptually accurate representation of our solar system for thousands of years.  I believe
that this representation is more natural, and less prejudiced than the one preceding it.
Organization for the Advancement of   
Interdisciplinary Learning