Monday, October 28, 2013

Carl Is Our Co-Pilot

Bucket List Alert.  So, yeah. I just finally saw all 50 states. Cool, right? (Don't let the blasé sarcasm fool you, I got all teary-eyed at the final border). I then got another bucket list item under my belt less than a week later!

Sciencenter, Ithaca

My awesome cousin, Professor Barrett, lives on the southern New York border, so I dropped in for his splendid (and spontaneously invented on that day) "Carl Sagan Tour" around Ithaca.

Of course, one mustn't miss The Sciencenter, an amazing, interactive museum geared toward children, where they may touch, explore, play and learn all manner of scientific concepts about anatomy, force, energy, frequency, atoms, gravity... and, for some reason, a skeleton on a skateboard.


The best part for me was the Sagan Planet Walk, a scale model of the solar system that spans from the museum to the Ithaca Commons, featuring our nearest yellow star, the planets (Pluto has been re-designated as a Dwarf Planet), and the Asteroid Belt -- complete with meteorite that may have actually come to Earth from the actual Asteroid Belt!

At the moment, construction at the Ithaca Commons has forced some of the stone markers to be moved, so the Sun and the inner, rocky planets are marked in their correct orbits with colorful murals.  I hope to return sometime during summer months when it's warmer, and the old stansions are back in their proper places.

Teaching the new generation of Science Headbangers!

Not to be deterred, we had a lovely walk through town streets among two parks, stopping along the way for pictures at the Gas Giants, the Ice Giants, and finally, tiny Pluto -- about 1.6 kilometers from the Sun. Interestingly, a stray cat helped us along the way. Good thing too, because even with a map, we had trouble going from planet to planet without being distracted by coffee shops. Coooold!!

Each stone marker has attractive plaques with information about each major item in the solar system, and round glass windows with a scale version of each planet.  I realized I need bifocals when I couldn't see Pluto at all!  If you prefer auditory stimulus to reading, you can also call 1-703-637-6237 from anywhere, and hear none other than Bill Nye The Science Guy narrate the entire walk. 

The skeleton gloves really make the whole picture

Every few hundred yards, one could also get their handy Planet Walk Passport stamped, confirming attendance at all the celestial bodies. What a great idea!  I have to say, this is the glossiest, best prepared souvenir I've ever had the pleasure to receive from a Science Museum.

The color passport contains a page about each stop on the planetary tour, a map of the town, solar system information. I looked for the copyright and authors, so that I could write them a letter to say how awesome it is... only to find out that it was sponsored by NASA!  The contents were written by Carl Sagan's widow, Ann Druyan.

Passport to the Solar System

Astonishingly, after we'd dragged my little cousin Sierra (aged 6) on the 3.2km walk around the solar system, she still had plenty of energy to play at the museum for another 2 hours, whereupon we mentioned to the Director of Guest Relations, Josh Giblin, that we had done other planet walks in America and Europe, including the one in Maine the Guinness Book of World Records names as the largest in the USA.

Well, hold on there a minute! Turns out, the Scale Solar System in Maine is the largest in the contiguous United States, but as of September 2012, the Sagan Planet Walk is actually the largest in world, actually stretching to another solar system! With the addition of Alpha Centauri, one of the next-closest stars to our own yellow flaming orb, Sagan's now spans from his birthplace in New York to the Imiloa Astronomy Center at the University of Hawai'i at Hilo

 Now we just need to encourage Omaha, Nebraska to create a mid-way Oort Cloud.

Scaled Distance from Alpha Centauri to our Sun

Click here for the complete list of Solar System Walks around the world (192 in total! So far.) and on any of the above pictures to see the entire gallery in my Pillownaut Picasa album. If time or budget prevents you from visiting Ithaca, remember to download the Planet Walk narration from iTunes or call 1-703-637-6237 to hear Bill Nye talk about each stop as you view the pictures!