Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Drake Deviation


The highlight of SETIcon II this past weekend was meeting Frank Drake, another one of those scientists whose resume makes me think, "What the heck have I been doing with my time? Slacker!"

Dr. Frank Drake
Frank Drake, Rock Star

Cornell and Harvard graduate, Astronomer, Astrophysicist, Professor, Author of The Drake Equation and the Arecibo Message, NRAO and JPL scientist, co-founder of SETI, Trustee of the SETI Institute, Radio Astronomy pioneer, Frank Drake, along with Carl Sagan, famously co-developed the Pioneer plaque AND the Gold Records on Voyager I and II, now the furthest pieces of human hardware from Earth, and poised to leave our solar system!

By the way, he also cultivates orchids in his spare time. Whenever that could possibly be.

After his SETIcon panel on alien communication (available soon on the SETI Institute YouTube channel), Frank hung around with us riff-raff for autographs, photographs and general banter. I grinned as Jaime ascended the dais to show Dr. Drake her tattoo. So hey, would Sir Frank be weirded out... or tickled?

Jaime and Frank
Oh, he was totally tickled! Thanks to a NYC tattoo artist who has at least one space geek chromosome, Jaime's lower calf sports a pulsar map, very similar to the one on Drake's Golden Record! The map on the Voyager records defines the location of our Sun utilizing 14 pulsars of known directions *from* said Sun. The binary code (kinda hard to see the nodes in these tiny pictures, but they're there!) defines the frequency of the electromagnetic pulses... very useful timekeepers of the cosmos!

Pulsar Tattoo Jaime Green
In an unprecedented moment of whimsy that belied his advancing years, Drake whipped out his smartphone and asked Jamie if he could photograph her calf tattoo. She laughed and obliged.

He fiddled with a few buttons, then took 3 snapshots at varying distances while we laughed. One of the camera operators working the conference rushed over to capture the moment, to a crowd of amused onlookers. Three or four other people in the growing line photographed Frank photographing Jaime, who only found out later that she had been captured in the moment.

frank Drake photographs Jaime's pulsar tattoo
Hands down, funniest moment at SETIcon

I had planned to write a post about Drake and his work, but this happy oddity proved a much better opportunity to showcase what sort of scientist he is, how his personality has shaped the way he thinks, and how his work changed the way WE all think about our universe and its possibilities.

His sense of curiosity and creativity has inspired a generation, and it was fun to watch him witness how his work will live on, continuing to inspire generations after!

Monday, June 25, 2012



My first trip to SETIcon was similar to my first Star Trek convention: one part predictable, two parts not what I expected at all, and about 12 parts way beyond expectations... overall, a pretty wild ride!

The first thing that surprised me was the sheer size of the crowd. SETIcon II (the second convention they have held) was well-attended, easily up in the thousands, and may need to explore larger venues in the future. The Santa Clara Convention Center was packed with space geeks, many from the native Silicon Valley, but some from as far away as New York. And a dedicated lot we are.

Actor Robert Picardo
Sweet Irony: Not a Trek Con, but the first celebrity I stumbled
over was Robert Picardo of Star Trek Voyager

In the wake of funding losses, it's good to see the Search For Extra Terrestrial Intelligence Institute's events so delightfully peopled in every age range. There was much to discuss, much to debate, and much to celebrate -- not cheaply, but the idea here is to raise money for the ongoing efforts in the greatest question for humankind: Are we alone in the cosmos?

It seems unlikely, and eminent scientists of all fields gathered to conduct lunches, brunches, slideshow panels, Q&A sessions and intimate interviews called "Fireside Chats", all to ponder the grander issues of our species. Where are the other populated planets? How do we find their signals? What are the signs of habitation? When life does arrive, is it inherently random in its development, or is intelligence always the end game? Just how unique are we?

Astronaut Tom Jones
NASA Astronaut Tom Jones, 4-time Space Shuttle Veteran

Some of the many sessions I chose to attend included:

"Will You Survive Your Trip To Mars" with NASA astronaut Tom Jones and Mars Institute founder Pascal Lee, among other ethicists and researchers.

"All Aboard the 100 Year Starship!" A new Earth effort by NASA Astronaut Mae Jemison, who was joined by Bill Nye The Science Guy!

"Did the Big Bang Require a Divine Spark?" with Nobel Prize Winner Alex Filippenko and other assorted Godless Heathens.

"Imagineering Science" with Chris Ford from PIXAR, and other film & visual arts folks who bring the universe to us colorfully and visually...

Fireside Chat with "Packing For Mars" author Mary Roach, who is just as funny in person as she is in writing!

Frank Drake
SETI founder Frank Drake at far left

Oh, and there was an exhibit hall with vendors, local artists specializing in space art, NASA Ames displays from the nearby agency center, the "Ask a Scientist" information table, a large silent auction of memorabilia and collectibles, time capsules compiled by famous scientists and in the evening, a BYOT ("Bring Your Own Telescope") Star Party where we noted an ISS pass... what luck!

The entire program of events can be found at the SETIcon II website, so definitely check it out and lament your absence if you didn't attend! It will definitely make you want to attend SETIcon III!

Nick, Karen, me, Erik & Jaime ... happy space geeks!

SETI had a vendor film each session, and they promised to make all the talks and events avaialble on their SETI Institute YouTube Channel, so look for those to be uploaded soon... in the meantime, my photos are in my Pillownaut Picasa Gallery, or click any of the above photos to see the high-resolution originals of the event.

Friday, June 22, 2012



Sheer coincidence that I've been enjoying the news of Voyager I and also researching as many scale model solar systems as I can find! The varying hikes are useful in learning about the size of our solar system, and I happened to complete this project while the first human-made craft escapes it! It's a bit chilling, actually.

To think, scientists in 1977 launched a craft that is now 120 Astronomical Units (AU) away from Earth, at the heliosphere (the vast reach of our Sun's magnetic field). On the other side is interstellar space, a new frontier for human hardware!

Arecibo Trail
Arecibo Trail in Puerto Rico

In light of this accomplishment, I hope some folks put the map of Solar System Hikes to good use this summer. Go forth, find ye a solar system scale model to traverse, and get in thy brain the size of our humble home!

After I published the international hikes, putting the number of solar system models well over 200, I was so gratified to have an inbox full of people telling me which ones they walked already, or shown their children! One person was actually on vacation at the time and thanked me for posting it while he was near one he could find! Good show!

Even more fun were the people who took time to send photographs, or tell me about models I had missed, because some models do not have web pages or space agency sponsors. Many, like the one in Arecibo, are accidentally secret. Until now...

Arecibo Sun
Arecibo Sun

Newly added to the list, thanks to Abel Méndez, is the solar system hike near Puerto Rico's dish... yes, THE dish. This one has signage in both English and Spanish, and could contend for most beautiful scenery (although driving the world record holder through Sweden in the summer is probably also pretty cool!)

Two others emailed pictures of planets from their local walks, and I added these to my Picasa Gallery of Solar System Hikes, so that folks can see many clever ways the planets are created and distributed. Some are done as playgrounds, many as metal or painted orbs, and others as stansions or plaques with scaled artwork.

Solar System Hike Munich Zoo
One sun blocking another in München!

My longtime friend and reader, Manuel in Munich, made it a point to walk the Solar System scale model in the München Zoo, just so he could take some pictures for me. Whatta guy! I was particularly interested in seeing some in Germany, since that company has more than any other: 107. If the map count is correct, over half the solar system scale models in the world are in Germany!

Yet another person who actually initiated and designed a solar system walk in his hometown in central Sweden, and sent me links to a wonderful set of photographs detailing one I had not yet found! I've got quite a collection now, for only having walked ONE of these things. all are welcome, and I hope more people continue to contact me, so we can make the map as comprehensive as possible.

München Solar System Model
Jupiter at the Munich Zoo

Very special thanks to Professor Abel Méndez of the Planetary Habitability Laboratory (University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo), also to IT Consultant Manuel Dornbusch of Brainforce, and to Chairman Kjell Olauson of the Örebro Astronomi cal Association for their wonderful photographs and information.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Shenzou-9 of China


On this day in history, June 18, 1983, Sally Ride was the first American woman to travel into space. See the recent post about Valentina Tereshkova, first woman in space, for her milestone mission on June 16, 1963.

Liu Yang
劉洋 Liú Yáng - Wuhan Flight Unit

Since China chose June 16 for their first launch of a lady taikonaut this past weekend, all these grand feminine firsts have happened between June 16-18 over the past 49 years! Of course, we've since had the first French, British, Canadian, Indian and Korean women in space... and in no way would I detract from the accomplishments of those nations -- however, the size and scope of the space agency in China now are on par to compete with NASA and Roskosmos in a way that no other nation has. They are only the third nation to put a woman in orbit using their own hardware.

If all goes as planned with the mission over the next few days, China will be the third nation in human history to dock two space craft together in orbit, when the Shenzou-9 capsule connects to the Tiangong-1 space laboratory module; the mastery of such technology is crucial to testing China's ability to build their own full space station.

Chinese Long March 2F rocket launches Shenzhou-9

Is anyone in America watching? Because from what I can see of press conferences and media, the Chinese are riveted, hoping to be the next owners of an orbiting station, and the next to reach the surface of Earth's moon.

The mission has been widely reported, unsurprisingly, by CNTV and Xinhuanet, plus many Russian Channels, India and Al-Jazeera; however, in an odd, glaring lack of video or hosted-spoken coverage, the mission was only briefly referred to, and mostly in print, by CNN, FOX and MSBNC.

Shenzou 9 Crew
Liu Wang, Jing Haipeng & Liu Yang, moments after rocket separation

Once the BBC picked up the story, it spread to more news outlets, but the better places to get more than passing details are in the smaller, more dense space publications who specialize in the details craved by nerds. Over the larger media chains, I recommend:

- Spaceflight 101 : Shenzou-9 Mission Updates (best detail here)

- Space Daily : Mission News including selections and preparations

- : Cool mission infographic

- SpaceRef : Diagram of intended future Chinese Space Station

Try to keep up, Earthlings! We have a new and serious player among the space-faring nations!

Disney Asia

Thursday, June 14, 2012

International Solar System Walks


The title is self-explanatory, and this turned out to be quite a list! I'm still mystified at finding no solar system scale hikes in Russia, but I found 54 across Europe, Australia, Asia and Africa! Click on any of the individual links to find details about that walk... or click on any of thee pictures to see the interactive map of the world!

Scale Solar Systems all over the world
AUSTRALIA (Coonabarabran, New South Wales)
3-D planets accompanied by large billboards along the roads, creating the second largest scale model of the solar system. The Sun is represented by the 37 metre telescope dome at Siding Spring Observatory, and a single path leads through the inner planets to Jupiter. Tourists can choose one of five driving routes in various directions that lead to five different versions of all the outer planets.
Approximate Scale - 1 : 38 million (Total distance 410km or 254 miles roundtrip)

AUSTRALIA (St. Kilda, Melbourne, Victoria)
The "Melbourne Solar System" is to scale both in model sizes and distances. Starting with the Sun in the Triangular Reserve just north of St. Kilda Marina, the nine planets run along the bicycle paths to Sandridge beach Port Melbourne.
Approximate Scale - 1 : 1 billion (Total distance 11.8 km or 7.3 miles roundtrip)

AUSTRIA (Amstetten)
Nine planets along a beautiful nature trail on the western edge of the city, scaled in both distance and planet size. Begin with the Sun at Amstetten High School, and hike along the Mühlbach millstream "Black Path" to Pluto in Greinsfurth.
Approximate Scale - 1 : 1.5 billion (Total distance 8.4 km or 5.2 miles roundtrip)

AUSTRIA (Bernstein, Burgenland)
The Planet Trail begins at the Felsenmuseum Bernsteiner (rock museum) with a giant uniquely painted and strategically ripped iron sun, and up through Neptune in a circle around the village. Designed to come around within 250m of the starting point instead of a straight line, so you end up where you begin and don't have to backtrack. Planets are spheres atop serpentine boulders, connected by painted green and white markings.
Approximate Scale - 1 : 1.1 billion (Total distance 5.7 km or 3.5 miles roundtrip)

AUSTRIA (Freistadt)
Another long one! Driving or bicycling advised through the 11 stations of the Planet trail. Exact coordinates for all stops are at their GPS site. Start at the "walking stone" in Freistadt, up to Zimmerhofer farm, the mountain Church of St. Michael, the Mitterbach, through an animal refuge, and end at the private observatory of Professor Wolfgang Woess in the town of Sandl. Includes the Asteroid Belt, Pluto and a station with audible pulsar sounds.
Approximate Scale not noted (Total distance 31.6 km or 19.6 miles roundtrip)

AUSTRIA (Großraming)
A lovely nature walk partly through town and partly through National Park, beginning at the Großraming Municipal Office. Goes from Sun up to Neptune; Pluto is not included. Path continues on through Welser. Planets and distance both to scale.
Approximate Scale - 1 : 1 billion (Total distance 9km or 5.6 miles roundtrip)

Playground Solar System
AUSTRIA (Hellmonsödt)
Unique collection of planetary-themed playgrounds along a circular trial around the town. The Sun is a giant playland of monkey bars! Great for picnics, after which one can use the trail maps to visit the nine planets on the surround streets, coming back to the Sun from the opposite direction. Information boards also have info about Dwarf planets, Asteroid belt, Kuiper belt, comets, and the Oort cloud.
Approximate Scale - 1 : 1.5 billion (Total distance 6.5 km or 4 miles in circle)

AUSTRIA (Königsleiten)
Forest Königsleiten: Start at the metal relief sun on the wall of the Zeiss Planetarium Observatory, the highest in Europe! Planets and distance of the model solar system are to-scale; nine planets are marked by giant granite blocks, each showing information and reliefs. Trail proceeds through moors, meadows and bogs, with beautiful views of the peaks in National Park Hohe Tauern and the Salzach. Books also recommend the "Stargazer Restaurant" next to the planetarium!
Approximate Scale - 1 : 1.5 billion (Total distance 6km circular, ends again at Zeiss)

AUSTRIA (Lichtenberg)
Kinderplanetenweg, or "Kids Planet Trail" and also known as "Sunny Side Up!" begins at the municipal office of Lichtenberg. Follow the inner planets along the paths between old and Neulichtenberg, where 20 different species of trees were planted and labeled for nature hikes. The outer planets and their data stands are deeper in the woods on Anniversary Route, ending with Neptune.
Approximate Scale - 1 : 1 billion (Distance 7 km circular, ends again at start point)

Linz, where Johannes Kepler lived and worked (1612-1626), holds one of the largest solar system models in Europe, extending over the entire province of Upper Austria. Known as the "Kepler Planterium", local organizations sponsored it as a "Land Art Project" where nine to-scale planetary sculptures were designed by renowned artists; including Pluto. Begins at the LAC observatory at the LAC along the Sonnenpromenade ("Sunwalk"), though website does not say if trails are a giant circle or linear paths. Maybe someday I'll get a guide at the LAC and check!
Approximate Scale 1 : 50 million (Distance not noted, but estimated around 300km)

AUSTRIA (Rettenegg)
University of Vienna Institute for Astronomy: The "Heaven on Earth" trail stretches from Rettenegg to Stuhleck in the foothills of the eastern Alps, to-scale in both planet sizes and distance. Start at the Star Pavilion, where the constellations of the northern summer sky are presented with 400 star points. Follow the trail along the nine planets, also Earth's moon, each placed inside glass orbs atop text panels. All planets are in the position of a particular day: May 5, 2000.
Approximate Scale - 1 : 1 billion (Total distance 12 km or 7.5 miles roundtrip)

AUSTRIA (Terfens)
Church of Vomperbach: "The Path of the Planets" goes through the the Forchat (pine forest) of the lower Inn Valley in the Karwendel nature reserve of the Tyrolean mountains. Starts with Sun outside Terfens at Vomperbach, and other planet stations are found inside Terfens and around Innbrücke, Wehle and Nepomuk.
Approximate Scale - 1 : 1 billion (Total distance 14 km or 8.7 miles roundtrip)

Solar System Walk in Japan
AUSTRIA (Tullnerfeld)
Vienna Woods: Begin at the Sun outside the church in Königstetten, and choose one of two paths, north or south, to Mars. On the north trail, a path tackles the outer planets up to Muckendorf's Inn Rödel along the Danube River. On the south, two different trails of varying difficulties follow outer planets, ending with one planet Pluto outside Hintersdorf, and one Pluto far south in Passauerhof. The many mapped trails to choose from can be hiked or bicycled.
Shorter two paths are each 10km or 6.3 miles roundtrip;
Larger path is 14km or 8.7 miles roundtrip though exact scales are not noted.

AUSTRIA (Vienna)
Begin at Wittgenstein's in southwest Vienna, and easily find the planet plaques along the grand wall of the gigantic Lainz Tiergarten near the star garden at George Berg. Planet pictures and distance all to scale. No map needed since the trail merely follows the wall, and find restaurants and the Wotrubakirche planetarium along the way. Inner planets closer to town, but finding Pluto requires going further into the woods near Gütenbachtor and the southern zoo, where the trail ends at Laaber gate. Earth's moon, Kuiper Belt and the Oort cloud are included.
Approximate Scale - 1 : 1 billion (Total distance 12 km or 7.5 miles roundtrip)

AUSTRIA (Weiten)
Südliches Waldviertel: Plan Tete trail in the forest district known as "Valley of Sun Watches" because in addition to the solar system model, there are collections of sun dials on display. Starts at the Sun opposite the old castle tavern, and follows the many planets past the sports arena, through cornfields and meadows; the Weitental lies between the two hills of the southern forest district, the Jauerling and the Ostrong. Includes Pluto and Earth's moon.
Approximate Scale - 1 : 16 billion (Total distance 7.2 km or 4.5 miles roundtrip)

BELGIUM (St. Vith)
Our Start at the Sun at the railway bridge in the Klosterstraße and end on the bridge in Galhausen, underneath the Mariengrot. Planets, including Pluto, represented by multi-colored orbs atop natural boulders.
Approximate Scale - 1 : 1.5 billion (Total distance 6 km or 3.7 miles roundtrip)

CANADA (La Malbaie, Québec)
Observatoire Astronomique de Charlevoix: Walk the path along the St. Laurent river for free or with an astronomy guide for $10 daily at 3pm to see the scale reproduction of the solar system called "Strolling at the Speed of Light". Starting at the Sun near the solar telescope at the Fairmont le Manoir Richelieu Casino, follow the planets and their info panels up through Neptune. Pluto not included.
Approximate Scale - 1 : 1.5 billion (Total distance 6 km or 3.7 miles roundtrip)

CROATIA (Zagreb)
Croatian National Theatre: Beginning with a huge metal Sun on Bogovićeva Street, travel through other various avenues and city squares to see to-scale metal planets on street corners, ending with Pluto under the Bologna underpass. Tough map! Not sure of distances in all one trip.
Approximate Scale - 1 : 680 million

Planet Walk in Czech Republic
Kralovehradecky Kraj: Distance and dimensional scale models of planets with information boards along a trail in Hradec Kralove near the Astronomical Society Observatory. Locations of all planets up to Pluto, plus Earth's moon and Halley's Comet are on the handy guide map – showing markers on streets, parks, ponds, businesses, schools and a dam.
Approximate Scale - 1 : 1 billion (Total distance 13 km or 8 miles roundtrip)

Sallingsund and Environs Museum: "Planet Path Glyngøre" starts with a steel Sun in Glyngøre and goes out to Pluto in the Durup Square, with lovely views over Sallingsund along abandoned rail lines. Each planet is represented by a boulder monument, and a modern poster board has facts & figures, plus poetic verses about each planet in both English and Danish.
Approximate Scale - 1 : 1 billion (Total distance 12 km or 7.5 miles roundtrip)

DENMARK (Fjerritslev)
Fjerritslev Museum:The "planetenweg" in FjerritslevIn Fjerritslev, lies in the village of Han Herred in between the North Sea and the Limfjord, is a distance-scaled solar system replica containing all nine planets. Googled around in both English and Danish hoping to find details, but came up short on this one… anyone who has walked it? Please let me know any specifics!
Approximate Scale - 1 : 1 billion (Distance not found in any tour book resources)

DENMARK (Lemvig)
Lemvig Museum: "The Planetary Path" or planetstien at the edge of Lemvig town park follows the Limfjord sound past Vinkelhage, Søgårdevejen, and Gjeller Odde. Beginning with the giant bronze sun, go through the rest of the nine planets of granite & bronze plinths, where all planets are to scale, and distance is also to scale. Includes Earth's moon, Ceres, Halley's comet, and three positions of Pluto, accounting for it's variable oval orbit.
Approximate Scale - 1 : 1 billion (Total distance 10 km or 6.2 miles roundtrip)

ENGLAND (Otford, Kent)
High Street: Begin at the center Sun in the Recreation Grounds, whereby the planets fan out in a wide circle, as designated by the walking map. The position of the planet pillars depict the precise position of the planets in their orbits at midnight on January 1, 2000. Includes Earth's moon, and Jupiter's moons Io and Europa; also shows relative distances to Proxima Centuari in Los Angeles and Sirius in Sydney, Australia, among other stars.
Approximate Scale - 1 : 4.5 billion (Spreads over village, not intended as a trail)

ENGLAND (Somerset)
Maunsel Lock: Two for one! According to the tourist map for this double-walk, one can begin at the lock and choose two different paths through the solar system, north from the Sun to Pluto ending at Bridgwater, or south into Taunton. Each holds metal models set in stone monoliths, with descriptions of each planet.
Approximate Scale - 1 : 530 million (Distance 11 km or 6.8 miles in each direction)

Solar System Plaque
Bishopthorpe: A great bicycle trip! Start at the Sun near York College, follow the bike trails parallel to the A19 down to the town of Riccall. Planet descriptions and quizzes accompany the many raised, colorful orbs. Park facilities available for charity events and picnics.
Approximate Scale - 1 : 576 million (Total distance 20 km or 12.6 miles roundtrip)

FINLAND (Helsinki)
Ursa Astronomical Association: Scaled planets known as the "Ursa Model", best seen by bicycle or bus #14. Starts with the Sun atop a pillar at the Patterimäki hill in Pajamäki suburb, which rises over 50 metres above sea level and is thus visible by binoculars even to the most distant planet model, Neptune (Pluto not included).
Approximate Scale - 1 : 1 billion (Total distance 9 km or 5.6 miles roundtrip)

FRANCE (Rennes, Brittany)
Le Chemin Solaire or the Solar Path is outside Rennes in La Couyère, renamed "Starry Village" in 2011. Guides for the hike are available in the Community of Municipalities Mid-Vilaine and Semnon located in Bain de Bretagne, and has 3 color-coded levels of detail for the Sun and eight planets (Pluto not included): Orange for primary school children, green for teens and red for adults.
Approximate Scale - 1 : 2.2 billion (Spreads over village, not intended as a trail)

FRANCE (Strasbourg, Alsace)
International Space University: Planet walk extends along the northern bank of the Traun Traun bridge to the old power station Traun Marchtrenk. The starting point is a solar disk; the rest of the outdoor markers are planets in glass cases accompanied by data plaques.
Approximate Scale - 1 : 1 billion (Precise trail + distance not noted)

See existing list of 107 Planet Walks & Solar System Models in Deustchland here!

Armagh Observatory & Planetarium of Northern Ireland: Trail known as the Astropark shows all the nine planets with orbs, and red and grey gravel stones to represent the Asteroid Belt. Grounds also include stone calendars and space for human orrery.
Approximate Scale - 1 : 30 billion (Total distance 8km or 5 miles roundtrip)

ITALY (Brunico)
The planet walk of Bruneck, in both Italian and German, starts near the Liberty Bar with a concrete sphere of the Sun. Across a bridge and around Sternwaldele to Bierkellerweg where one can get a view of Bruneck Castle, then around paths leading to Reischacher road and into forest land. Path of nine planets, each represented by boards, ends in the park by the Odeon Cinema. Very unique map!
Approximate Scale - 1 : 1.5 billion (Total distance 8km or 5 miles roundtrip)

Planet Walk in Austria
ITALY (Sudtirolo)
Santa Cristina, South Tyrol: the route of the former Val Gardena railway is now the promenade path of the "Sentiero Planetario" or Planetary Trail. Nine planets set to scale in size and distance with information boards holding various facts about each celestial body, including Pluto.
Approximate Scale - 1 : 1,868 billion

JAPAN (Tokyo)
Mitaka Campus: starting at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) building, follow the Sun to Saturn in the surrounding area, following informational boards. Pluto not included.
Approximate Scale 1 : 14 billion (Total distance can be seen with naked eye)

Scaled plastic planets along a scaled hike along the Rhine River between Schaan and Bendern; start at the Sun at Rhine Park Stadium's parking lot and follow the Wuhrweg route toward Balzers.
Approximate Scale - 1 : 1 billion (Total distance 10km or 6.2 miles roundtrip)

NAMIBIA - Swakopmund, Erongo
Astro Farm Hakos: The "Heavenly Namibia" was designed as a sister-model to an identical planetenweg in Freiburg, Germany. Nine iron orb planets with steel décor sit atop wooden stakes, leading from the Hakos Guest Farm to the International Amateur Observatory (IAS).
Approximate Scale - 1 : 2.5 billion (Total distance 4 km or 2.5 miles roundtrip)

POLAND (Jakuszyce)
Orle: The "Model Ukladu Slonecznego" lies along a hiking trail in Gory Izerskie between the Orle and Chatka Gorzystow mountain huts. Distances are to scale, but plaques along the way are not to-scale in terms of planet size, but simply set into natural rocks. Pluto not included.
Approximate Scale - 1 : 1 billion (Total distance 9km or 5.6 miles roundtrip)

PORTUGAL (Estremoz)
Science Center of Estremoz: The Scaled solar system, or Sistema Solar à escala de Estremoz indeed covers the entire county of that name! Planets are represented with boards and are not to scale, but distances are calculated from the center of Estremoz, with Pluto out by the Évoramonte Castle. Starting at the Centro Ciência Viva de Estremoz at Convento das Maltezas, guides show where to find all markers, which include Pluto, and Ceres.
Approximate Scale - 1 : 4 billion (Circular, not intended as a trail)

Arecibo Observatory: Scale model of the solar system along trail that leads up to the observatory.
Scale and precise distance not known.

Solar System Drive in Sweden
Stretches through most of Sweden… seriously! This scale model of the solar system is currently the largest in the world. It starts at the Ericsson Globe "Sun" in Stockholm, the largest hemispherical building in the world. Inner planets are all found in Stockholm, and the outer planets lie north in other cities along the Baltic Sea, including Danderyd, Märsta, Alsike, Uppsala, Gävle, Söderhamn, Umeå, and Luleå. Represented among the nine planets are many of their satellite moons, the Asteroid Belt, Halley's Comet and the Swift-Tuttle comet, plus Dwarf Planets Eris and Sedna. The model's northernmost point is the Termination Shock zone of the heliosphere, at the Swedish Institute of Space Physics in Kiruna. One can follow the Sun to Termination Shock in a straight line, though secondary road trips would be needed to see the comets in cities toward the South of the country.
Approximate Scale - 1 : 20 million (Total distance 1,234 km or 766 miles roundtrip)

SWEDEN (Örebro)
Örebro Astronomi cal Association: Begins with the Sun Monument at Olof Palme Square, and continues down Queen and Main Streets, which extend on a straight line through the business downtown area of central Örebro. Mercury, Venus and Mars marked with wall plaques. All other planets, including Earth and its moon, on stone pillars with steel planet models; continues on to Nikolai Church and the Iron Square, opposite the local castle, Örebro Slott. Ends with Neptune at the "Mushroom" water tower plateau, overlooking the city and the entire solar system path. Go to the local tourism office near the Sun Monument for guides and to-scale "Earth Pearls" to indicate size of our home planet as compared to the model.
Approximate Scale - 1 : 1.8 billion (Total distance 5 km or 3.1 miles roundtrip)

Astronomical Association of Aarau: Starting with the Sun at the corner of Hauptstrasse at Echo Linde, follow the nine planets, plus Earth's moon, through the south trail of the forest; ends in town of Kölliken
Approximate Scale - 1 : 1 billion (Total distance 12 km or 7.5 miles roundtrip)

Pratschli: Start at the bus Terminus at Pratschli, and follow beautiful labeled hike or guide map from Arosa Tourism office toward Pluto in Rot Tritt. The sun and nine planets are represented as models with information boards.
Approximate Scale - 1 : 2.8 billion (Total distance 4.4 km or 2.7 miles roundtrip)

Kantonsschule Bülach: Start with the Sun at Canton School Unterland, east of the city center. Booklet map available from the school shows the path along the planets (includes Earth's moon) through town and to Pluto at the Bülacher Observatory.
Approximate Scale - 1 : 5 billion (1.5 hour hike)

Astronomical Society of Burgdorf: Begin at the Binzbergplateau for a marvelous, all-green terrain nature walk through the solar system, north through Rüglen, a town called (no kidding) Egg, the Kaltacker schoolhouse, then the right fork toward Guetisberg, and from then on, all right forks through the forest to Rutschiweid and finally to Pluto in Wynigen.
Approximate Scale - 1 : 1 billion (Total distance 12 km or 7.5 miles roundtrip)

SWITZERLAND (Emmen, Lucerne)
Reusseggstrasse: Begin with the Sun at Reuss Schachen Emmenbrücke, at the edge of the Emme and Ruess Rivers, and follow the river directly east. Planet boards and models up to Pluto are along the trails up to the Pearl Bridge / Reussbrücke in Grunwald. Includes Earth's moon and Ceres.
Approximate Scale - 1 : 1 billion (Total distance 11.8 km or 7.3 miles roundtrip)

Giant Sun Model
SWITZERLAND (Falera Mirasteilas)
Astronomical Society of the Canton of Grisons: Start at the Sun along Er Liung just past via Cantunala, and follow the Falera Trail on the first part of the Panorama Route, which runs from about Falera Larnags to Laax-Murschetg. Includes all nine planets as individual sculptures, along stunning views of the Rhine Gorge. One trail leads on to Laax, another returns hikers to their starting point.
Approximate Scale - 1 : 4 billion (Total distance 3 km or 1.8 miles roundtrip)

SWITZERLAND (Kreuzlingen)
Kreuzlingen Observatory and Planetarium: Two planetary paths, each at a flat rate of CHF 100, go from the Sun at the observatory to Pluto along various trails, featuring signs showing planet orbs to scale. Hike north toward Germany to Bodensee-Therme (North Lake Constance thermal baths), or hike south to Siegershausen with trail maps to guide the way.
Approximate Scale - 1 : 1 billion (Total distance 12 km or 7.5 miles roundtrip)

Nordwestschweiz: The Planetenweg Laufen is a hiking path from Laufen to Liesberg. Both size of planet models and distance are to scale, but the distances are linear and the trails are not. So, the walk is longer than some others with identical scales. Can be walked, bicyled or driven. Includes Pluto and Earth's moon.
Approximate Scale - 1 : 1 billion (Total distance 26km or 16 miles roundtrip)

Astronomical Society of the Canton of Ticino: "Astrovia Locarno" begins with the Sun at the end Via al Lido on the River Maggia, and meanders along a green delta "quiet zone". Nine planets are represented with plexiglass, marble and steel models, accompanied by plaques with technical data. Cross the Morettinabridge to get to the outer planets, and through the Gerre Losone golf course. Also cross the footbridge on the bank of the River Melezza and onto the steeple in Tegna. Walk or bike through the green parks, and either hike back or take the Centovalli train to the starting point in Locarno.
Approximate Scale - 1 : 1 billion (Total distance 12 km or 7.5 miles roundtrip)

SWITZERLAND (Monte Generoso)
Vetta: Start with the 3-D Sun at the east forecourt of the hotel restaurants at Generosa Vetta observation deck (the very top), and follow the planet billboards along the eastern trail, across the border into Italy. Includes Pluto. Guide map available in Italian, German, French & English
Approximate Scale - 1 : 10 billion (Total distance 1.2 km or .75 miles roundtrip)

SWITZERLAND (Regensberg)
Lindenplatz: Starting with the 3.5 ton Sun (wow!) at the Linden Rain Village, follow varying trails (distances are about the same, but they have levels of difficulty for beginning vs. advanced hikers) through the nine planets. Concrete panels holding graffiti-proof prints on concrete slabs were created by local school children. Pass the town of Hochwacht and cross the Canton of Zürich border into the Canton of Aargu. End point is the Horn Castle, or Burghorn.
Approximate Scale - 1 : 1 billion (Total distance 12 km or 7.5 miles roundtrip)

Solar System Model in Denmark
SWITZERLAND (Ringgenberg)
Brienzersee (Lake Brienz ): Another dual setup, where one may choose two paths, both with stunning panoramic views! Begin with the large stone Sun at the Ringgenberg; the west trail of none planets through the Lake Thun Weissenau nature reserve ends with Pluto near Interlaken; the east trail along the massive lake, and then through small villages and forest lands, ends with another Pluto model near Oberried. Gorgeous visibility of surrounding mountains in all directions! Detailed MAP available at tourism office.
Approximate Scale - 1 : 1 billion (Total distance 12 km or 7.5 miles each)

Le Chemin des Planètes, or The Planet Path, begins at the FXB Observatory near Chandolin, and runs along a path in iew of the lovely Valais Alps. Model is to scale, but the walking distance is one scale and the scale of the nine planets is different: 1 cm to 1000 km.
Approximate Scale - 1 : 1 billion (Total distance 12 km or 7.5 miles roundtrip)

White Mountain: "Planetenweg Weissenstein" begins with a model of the Sun at the Kurhaus Weissenstein, the heads west to the mountain station of the chairlift Oberndorf, then further the white stone on the Hasenmatt to Grenchenberg. Markers re reminiscent of road signs, though more ornate and with stone carvings. Includes Pluto.
Approximate Scale - 1 : 1 billion (Total distance 12 km or 7.5 miles roundtrip)

Botanical Gardens: Begin with the Sun at the Botanischer Garten, enjoy all the exotic plants and flowers while passing through the solar system scale model, which winds through Mörschwil to Glinzburg, and ends with Pluto in Obersteinach. Along the outer nature trails is a lovely view of Lake Constance.
Approximate Scale - 1 : 1 billion (Total distance 15 km or 9.3 miles roundtrip)

Planetenweg Walking Trail from Uetliberg mountain station to the Adliswil-Felsenegg LAF cable car mountain station sports scale planet models and informational plaques set atop monoliths made from stones gathered on the Linth and Ruess glaciers. Local guides say to allow for a 2-hour hike, much of which is mountain terrain. Translation: uphill climbs!
Approximate Scale - 1 : 1 billion (Total distance 11.6 km or 7.2 miles roundtrip)

Solar System Scale Model in Europe

Tuesday, June 12, 2012



Last week, I composed a map of all the scale models of solar system in the United States that could be hiked, biked or driven. I then set about researching all those in other countries, first predictably finding the easy Google-searches on other continents, second surprised that I couldn't find ANY in Russia (still weird), and third finding that Deutschland holds the record for a whopping 106 planet walks inside their borders!

And if we count the one that straddles the Swiss border, the total is 107.

Quite a list! Covering every part of the country. Credit for this amazing compilation goes to Bernhard Kletzenbauer, a Technical Illustrator who lives in the town of Weckesheim, Germany. Be sure to read hs new finds since his last update, and scout around his awesome photo galleries, documenting all the models he has visited personally.

The rest of Europe has less than half Germany's number, hovering around 50, with a few under construction. America holds 30 even that I’ve found so far. (To put this in perspective, Germany would fit twice into Texas.)

Texas size and Europe size
Guten tag, Ya'll

I guess you could say I cheated on this one a little. Since I found that someone else had done all the work for me in this particular nation, I'm just referring to him! In terms of individual descriptions, most links to websites and scales can be found on the German Planetenweg Wiki page.

The majority are standardized at a scale of 1 : 1 billion, and from one end to another (i.e. the Sun to Pluto), about 6km in a line, and 12km or 7.5 miles roundtrip). Hats off to our Deutsche brothers and sisters for such valuable learning tools all over their nation. Thanks, Bernhard!

Bernhard Kletzenbauer Planetenwanderwege Deustchland
Over the course of the next week, I'll compile a list of all the rest across Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia. *Spoiler* The world record holder is in Sweden...!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Solar System Hikes in America


Carrying over from the solar system "Planet Walk" in California, here is a list of other scale models spread across terrain in various US states! Perfect for summer road trips with the kidlets!

Turns out there are 30 of them! Each gives a unique perspective of the size of our solar system... or at least, far better than mobiles or artist renderings. So, I decided to create a new map of all the solar system walks by state and nearest city.

Solar System Hikes in America
Click for the interactive Google Map Page

If I missed one near you, please let me know so I can add it to the growing list!

ALASKA (Anchorage) - Alaska Center for the Performing Arts
The "Lightspeed Planet Walk", starting at the 6,000-pound(!) Sun station at the corner of G street, proceeds down 5th avenue. Outer planets along the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, and signs continue south to Kincaid Park. The scale was chosen so that a leisurely walking pace mimics the speed of light. The Anchorage Planet Walk Org is the only one so far that installed a live web cam on their site!
Approximate Scale - 1 : 2 billion (Distance not noted, creator says 3-hr hike)

CALIFORNIA (Kenwood) - Sugarloaf Ridge State Park
Starting at the Robert Ferguson Observatory, find white markers on posts installed along hilly paths, across creeks and to the top of Brushy Peak.
Approximate Scale - 1 : 2 billion (Total distance 4 miles roundtrip)

COLORADO (Boulder) - University of Boulder
Black granite pedestals with mounted planets start at Fiske Planetarium, marking the inner solar system in the museum courtyard, and outer system across one paved street, whose location correlates with the Asteroid Belt… then up two more blocks of the University of Boulder campus to Pluto.
Approximate Scale - 1 : 10 billion (Total distance can be seen with naked eye)

CONNECTICUT (New Milford) - McCarthy Observatory
Starting with the Sun at the nearby New Milford High School, follow the guide map through other schools and the town library along Route 7, out past Pluto to the Kuiper Belt end point. Comes with Passport book, which can be stamped at all the brass and bronze planet sites.
Approximate Scale – 1 : 760 million

FLORIDA (Gainesville) - Park & City
Starting at 8th Avenue: Between NW 34th and 22nd streets, follow the row of concrete monoliths to read facts and poetry about each planet. Earth's moon and Pluto's moon Charon represented in addition to planets.
Approximate scale - 1 : 4 billion (Total distance just under 2 miles roundtrip)

GEORGIA (Gainesville) - Town Square Courthouse
Stone and metal plaques built for The Millennium Project and placed around the city, circling outward from the courthouse Sun. Hands down, best trail map design! Includes the Asteroid belt, Ceres, & Galilean moons. Last erected was Pluto & Charon, alongside arrows pointing the direction to Alpha Centauri, har har.
Approximate scale: 1 : 2 billion (Total distance 3.6 miles roundtrip)

ILLINOIS (Peoria) - Lakeview Museum of Arts & Sciences
Held the record for largest solar system scale model from 1993-98. You'll want to drive this one! Starting at the LM Planetarium, the orrery spreads to polyurethane planets suspended from ceilings of businesses, gas stations, parks and schools. Pluto is about 40 miles out, and they recently added Dwarf Plants Eris and Ceres.
Approximate Scale - 1: 125 million (Total distance slightly under 80 miles roundtrip)

INDIANA (Cumberland) - Marion & Hancock Counties
Goes along the Pennsy Trail: Pavement markings with planet signs, starting with the Sun at German Church Road in Marion County, and ending with Pluto on Mount Comfort Road in Hancock County.
Approximate Scale - 1: 1 billion (Total distance just short of 6 miles roundtrip)

MAINE (Presque Isle) - University of Maine
This walk, which spans Aristook County, holds the current Guinness World Record for the largest solar system model in the USA. Starting at UofM Folsom Hall, sports 3-dimensional models at intervals along Route 1 through towns of Mars Hill (ha!), Bridgewater, Monticello, Littleton, and ending in historic Houlton. Includes nine planets, seven moons, and now three dwarf planets. Interestingly, there are TWO versions of Pluto, one as a planet and one as a dwarf … and also accounts for the elliptic of Pluto in terms of how it can vary from 29 – 49 AU from the sun at different times. How politically correct!
Approximate Scale - 1 mile : 1 Astronomical Unit or 93,000,000 miles
(Total distance 80+ miles roundtrip)

MARYLAND (Glen Burnie) - Baltimore Annapolis Trail Park
Starts at Harundale Mall and ends at the Earliegh Heights Ranger Station , the Friends Planet Walk invites citizens to walk, roller-blade or bike what they call their linear art gallery, with signs/graphics provided by NASA Goddard’s Solar Dynamics Observatory Education & Public Outreach (E/PO) Office. Local artists created a giant metal sun, and one-of-a-kind art sculptures for each planet, including Pluto.
The Approximate Scale not noted by creators (Total distance 9.2 miles roundtrip)

MASSACHUSETTS (Boston) - Museum of Science
Starting with a Sun in Charles Hayden Planetarium, print out a Solar System Passport, then visit the nine planets all around the Boston metropolitan area, in train stations, hotels, malls, the Cambridge Public Library, etc. At each stop in the series, one can make a rubbing of the planet off a plaque with raised symbols.
Approximate scale - 1: 400 million (Spreads over city, not intended as a trail)

Scaled Solar System Strolls in America
MICHIGAN (Escabana) - Escabana Public Library
The Walk of the Planets starts on Ludington & 4th streets and proceeds west from the 400 block to the 2200 block, ending near Lincoln Road. Planets each noted by information board, and this walk also includes markers for the Voyager I and II space crafts, launched by NASA in 1977 – showing how far these two human-made crafts have traveled in the past few decades. (Marker shows where V1 was in 1998, but now in 2012 it would be about another mile out on Route 2.)
Approximate Scale - 1 foot : 865,000 miles (Total distance 3.2 miles roundtrip)

MICHIGAN (Grand Rapids) - Aquinas College
The "Foster Planet Walk" begins at Albertus Hall and circles around to numerous planets in different buildings; celestial bodies not to scale on this one, but represented by large metal plates.
Approximate Scale – 40 feet: 1 Astronomical Unit or 93,000,000 miles

MISSOURI (Kansas City) - VOYAGE Program *
Standardized scale model of solar system starts on Baltimore Avenue, and stretches between the Power & Light building to historic Union Station. Planets are represented by uniform posts and plaques; includes Pluto and newly created stanchion for the Dwarf Planet Eris. Voyage Home!
Approximate Scale – 1 : 10 billion (Total distance 4,000 feet roundtrip)

MISSOURI (St. Louis) - University City
The Delmar Loop Planet Walk starts with the Sun at the Moonrise Hotel, and follows Delmar Street up though Neptune, with informational planet "street signs" at various stores and restaurants along the way. Pluto was removed in 2006.
Approximate Scale - 1 : 5.3 billion (Total distance just over 1 mile roundtrip)

NEW JERSEY (Clinton) - Voorhees State Park
The NJ Astronomical Association created etailed informational posters on stands along a beautiful forest trail by the Paul Robinson Observatory, also accounting for the Asteroid Belt. Gives facts and statistics at each stop, including human missions to each part of the solar system.
(Scale not given by creators, but looks to be about 1 mile roundtrip)

NEW MEXICO (Silver City) - City Streets
Swan & 32nd Street Sidewalks hold copper plaques embedded into pavement at measured intervals, and their helpful walking guide assures visitors that "Normal walking speed equals ten times the speed of light in this model. If you were on the Starship Enterprise, you would be traveling at Warp factor 2!"
Approximate Scale - 1: 2.8 billion (Total distance 2.4 miles roundtrip)

VOYAGE Program Solar System Walks
NEW MEXCIO (Sunspot) - Sunspot Astronomy and Visitors Center

Gorgeous drive from Corona Loop up Sunspot Highway (Hwy 63) through the Lincoln National Forest to the town of Cloudcroft. Road signs with planets and information include asteroid Ceres and Pluto.
Approximate Scale - 1 : 250 million (Total distance 34.5 miles roundtrip)

NEW YORK (Ithaca) - Sciencenter
Honoring Carl Sagan, longtime resident of Ithaca. The Sagan Planet Walk starts at the M&T Bank on the Commons, and follows city streets up to the Sciencenter, where one can get their "Passport to the Solar System" stamped along the way for free admission into the museum.
Approximate Scale - 1 foot : 1 billion miles (Total distance 1.5 miles roundtrip)

OHIO (Cleveland)- Rocky River Reservation
NASA Glenn research center-sponsored markers on walking trail for the "Metroparks Solar System Walk", beginning at South Mastick Picnic Area off Valley Parkway.
Approximate Scale - 1 : 5.3 billion (Total distance about 1.5 miles roundtrip)

OREGON (Eugene) - Alton Baker Park
Small painted orbs spaced around a park lake, then the outer solar system stretches along bicycle paths and city streets in Eugene.
Approximate Scale - 1: 1 billion (Total distance 7.4 miles roundtrip)

PENNSYLVANIA (Allentown) - Little Lehigh Parkway
At the beginning of the Bridle Path on the LLP, The Rev. Dr. Ernest F. Andrews Memorial Planet Walk snakes through forest trails and winds past the water, sporting informational stands describing each planet up to Pluto.
Approximate Scale – 1 foot : 1 million miles (Total distance 1.4 miles roundtrip)

SOUTH DAKOTA (Sioux Falls) - Sertoma Park
One of the few solar system models that is to scale in terms of the planets, but doesn’t designate an exact path to follow, though Sertoma Park notes the distances on plaques, showing Pluto to be about 120 miles away at a particular location if you happen to have spare gasoline to drive it!
Approximate scale and total distance not given by creators.

Scale Model of Solar System for Hikers
TENNESSEE (Kingsport) - Bays Mountain Park & Planetarium
($3 parking fee) Starts with a large metal sun, the dome of the Bays Mountain Observatory, and follows various forest walks around the Lakeside trails, with to-scale carvings of planets on wooden signs at measured intervals. Good for biking or walking.
Approximate scale and total distance not given by creators.

TEXAS (Corpus Christi) - VOYAGE Program *
Standardized scale model of solar system lies along the historic waterfront seawall, connecting the downtown hotels and restaurants to the museum district. Planets are represented by uniform posts and plaques; includes Pluto and newly created stanchion for the Dwarf Planet Eris. Voyage Home!
Approximate Scale – 1 : 10 billion (Total distance 4,000 feet roundtrip)

TEXAS (Houston) - VOYAGE Program *
Standardized scale model of solar system lies along perimeter of Johnson Space Center tourist area, from the ticket office to outlying grounds on NASA Parkway. Planets are represented by uniform posts and plaques. Voyage Home!
Approximate Scale – 1 : 10 billion (Total distance 4,000 feet roundtrip)

Standardized scale model of solar system
stretches between the US Capitol building and the Washington Monument. Planets are represented by uniform posts and plaques. Voyage Home!
Approximate Scale – 1 : 10 billion (Total distance 4,000 feet roundtrip)

WASHINGTON (Longview )- Lake Sacajawea

Polished granite markers with to-scale metal planets follow the curve of the lake from 15th street, past 3 major bridges to Ocean Beach Highway.
Approximate Scale – 1 : 2.2 billion (Total distance 3.2 miles roundtrip)

Voyage ProgramWISCONSIN (Madison) - State Street Pedestrian Mall
The "Madison Planet Stroll" starts with the Sun (an orb lamp!) on Bascom Hill, ending with Pluto on the steps of the State Capitol building. Tiny markers… Jupiter is a golf ball and Pluto is but a speck!
Approximate Scale – 1 : 4 billion (Total distance 1.8 miles roundtrip)

VERMONT (Norwich) - Montshire Museum of Science
Starting with the Sun in Science Park, the Planet Walk proceeds through Ridge Trail and Hazen Trail up to Pluto.
Approximate Scale - 1 : 2 billion (Total distance 3.2 miles roundtrip)

Next up, I'll add all the international Solar System walks to the map!