"Courage is the art of being the only one who knows you're scared to death." - Harold Wilson
Question #91396 posted on 05/30/2018 9:48 p.m.

Dear 100 Hour Board,

I bought a bag of "solar system marbles" at the Smithsonian Air & Space museum. I think the marbles are supposed to match up with planets, maybe some dwarf planets like Eris and moons? But I can't figure out which marble is which. What marble is what?

I messaged yayfulness a pic for reference which any writer may attach to their answer.

-james smithson


Dear Jamesonian Smithsonian,

For the readers, here is the picture (with labels for convenience):

marbles aren't lost yet.jpeg

This... is a mess. I'm going to start with the assumption that the Sun and all of the non-Earth planets are definitely represented in the picture, and then continue from there.

The Sun: This one's got to be Marble 9. It's yellow, it's fiery, and about the only thing that it isn't is ten times the diameter of the next-biggest marble. But creative liberties have to be taken somewhere, I suppose, because space is big.

Mercury: Based on pictures of the planet, my best guess is Marble 7. Mercury isn't actually sparkly, as far as I know, but it is a gray and barren rock.

Venus: Orange clouds? Marble 5 isn't exactly orange, but it has some orange on it. That counts, right?

Earth: Earth is definitely a planet in the solar system, but I'm pretty sure someone forgot to tell the Smithsonian because none of these marbles look right.

Mars: Mars is not actually as red as Marble 3, but I can forgive that.

Jupiter: Giant? Yes. Yellow and red? Mostly yes. Bigger than the Sun? ...no. Marble 2? I think so.

Saturn: Nothing really matches (except Marble 2, but that's taken), so I'll say it's Marble 8. No physical resemblance, but it's the thought that counts, right?

Uranus: Uranus is blue, but not as blue as Neptune. I... guess I'll pick Marble 11? It has a little blue in it. Yeah. Marble 11.

Neptune: This one is really blue, meaning it gets assigned Marble 12. Also, did I accidentally type "marblue 12"? Yes, I definitely did.

Now that we're out of planets (sorry, piece of rock smaller than the moon), I'll move on to some other nearby objects.

Pluto: Not a planet, but still a marble. Marble 10, specifically, even if it's just a superficial resemblance.

The Asteroid Belt: Okay, so it's not one cohesive object, but it's a bunch of flecks of rock in a sea of black, which is exactly what I see when I look at Marble 14.

The Kuiper Belt: Look, I started assigning multiple objects to single marbles and now I'm committed to it, okay? Marble 6 represents all the non-Pluto objects in the Kuiper Belt, including dwarf planets like Haumea and Makemake. Mostly black, because the Kuiper Belt is mostly space, but it's got bigger splotches than Marble 14 because the Kuiper Belt has bigger objects than the Asteroid Belt.

The Oort Cloud: I know. This sounds fake. We don't even know for certain whether it exists. But that's perfect for Marble 1, which is the same color as completely empty space. Lose it in the dark, and you might not know whether it exists either!

The Oyster Nebula: I mean, it's a part of a solar system, right? That counts, right? The color's a little off, but I'm assigning it to Marble 13.

The Pillars of Creation: This is a stretch. That is fine, because I can only accommodate Marble 4 by stretching.

Now that we've got a list sorted by celestial body, here's a list sorted by marble number:

  • Marble 1: The Oort Cloud
  • Marble 2: Jupiter
  • Marble 3: Mars
  • Marble 4: The Oyster Nebula
  • Marble 5: Venus
  • Marble 6: The Kuiper Belt
  • Marble 7: Mercury
  • Marble 8: Saturn
  • Marble 9: The Sun
  • Marble 10: Pluto
  • Marble 11: Uranus
  • Marble 12: Neptune
  • Marble 13: The Pillars of Creation
  • Marble 14: The Asteroid Belt

Alternatively, if you want a solar system marble set that at least pretends to try to make sense, here's a suggestion from Mico.

Thanks for the adventure!