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How Big is Our Solar System?

One way to measure the size of our Solar System is the heliopause, the layer of space where solar wind and interstellar medium exert equal pressure. Close to the Sun, solar wind is dense enough to push out the low-density interstellar medium. As we move further away from the Sun, the density of solar wind and interstellar medium decreases and the pressure of both eventually equals each other.

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Several measurements have been made of our Solar System. Early measurements were as low as 383 kilometers and as high as 444 kilometers. In 1879, E.C. Pickering produced an estimate of 513 kilometers, which is very close to the present value of the mean diameter. Later estimates ranged from 390 km to 602 km, with many of them consisting of more than one planet. Various types of methods were used to measure the diameter of the planets, including speckle interferometry and photometry.

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One of the most common methods of measuring the size of the Solar System is to use astronomical units, and this makes the calculation of the AU more manageable. The diameter of the Solar System is one hundred thousand times the distance from Earth to the outer edge. Similarly, light traveling from the Sun would take 555 days to reach the edge of the Solar System. The distances from the Sun are so large that figuring out how far away the Earth is can be tricky. In order to make the process simpler, some astronomers use the scale of 1AU, or one centimeter, and this scale is used to draw the solar system.

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