Planetary Art – Inner Planet Orbital Spirograph

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Earlier, I had made a visualization showing that Mercury is the closest planet to Earth (on average) and not Venus or Mars. To make that, I downloaded a bunch of NASA ephemeris (orbital) data. I realized I could use the same data to make some cool orbital art inspired by a spirograph – a planetary spirograph.

Basically, you get to choose a planet and the visualization will draw a line connecting that planet and Earth every few days. These lines will then build up into a cool pattern over 40 earth years of orbital cycles. Each planet (Mercury, Venus and Mars) has a different orbital period around the sun than Earth does and as a result, interesting patterns emerges.

Orbital periods of the four inner rocky planets:

  • Mercury: 88 days
  • Venus: 225 days
  • Earth:365 days
  • Mars: 687 days

Also evident is that the orbits of some of the planets are not quite circular so the pattern isn’t quite centered on the sun. Venus has the most regular pattern, creating a distinctive 5-lobed design. The other planets also have visually stunning patterns, though they do not repeat perfectly over time.

You can change the planets using the drop down menu as well as change the speed of the spirograph, and hide the planets and the sun.

Data and Tools:
I had thought about simulating the planets but there are plenty of tools out there that generate this orbital data so instead just downloaded 40 years of ephemeris data (data related to positions of astronomical bodies) from NASA website.. I processed the data using javascript and drew the picture using HTML canvas tools.

Planetary Art Spirograph




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