There are two tropes for science fair projects: baking soda volcanoes and styrofoam ball solar system mobiles. Consider the latter, and compare it with even most superficial knowledge we all retained from elementary school. Those planetary alignments don’t begin to do outer space justice.
The wild and immense scale of the planets, with their inhospitable but awe-inspiring climates, are better understood through this animated tutorial from German design trio Kurzgesagt. The designers began making the quickie science lessons after admiring the work of other YouTube educators.
Their aim is simple: “We just want to make beautiful content that makes science more popular,” says Philipp Dettmer.
Kurzgesagt has previously covered climate change and the global oceanic conveyor belt, as well as how evolution works. But they’ve hit their stride with the solar system video, because one of the galaxy’s incomprehensible qualities is its endless expansiveness and our tiny existence in relation to all that space. With the help of flat, zippy graphics–inspired, Dettmer says, by retro science textbooks from the ’50s thru the ’70s–the scale of our solar system starts to make some sense.
The designers converted each of the planets from an orb shape into a proportionate line of blocks, making it starkly evident, for example, how miniscule Earth is compared with the gas planets Jupiter and Saturn. That contrast is the core of the animation’s story. “We are looking for connections that weren’t obvious,” Dettmer tells Co.Design.
But most captivating of all is the gargantuan sun–something we factor into our lives without much thought. As the graphic shows, the sun occupies 99.86% of our solar system, vastly dwarfing even Jupiter. And as Kurzgesagt goes on to explain (spoiler alert!) in the video, the sun’s power will eventually lead to our collective planetary death: “At some point, it will become hotter and hotter until it melts Earth’s crust. Then the sun will grow and grow and either swallow Earth, or at least turn it into a sea of lava,” says the chipper voice-over.
It’s a gory apocalypse, but at least we have crisp and colorful graphics to understand it.
See more of Kurzgesgt’s work here.