Monday, October 21, 2013

Largest Solar System in America!


There are hundreds of scale solar systems all over the world, and 30 in the USA. Most are designed to be hiked via nature trails, or perhaps bicycled, if they're on paved roads. The largest is in Aroostook County of northern Maine. At nearly 100-miles long, snaking through half a dozen towns, I figured a car would be handy.

The entire solar system is to-scale, both in distance and in the size of the celestial objects! Well, except for the Sun, but they tried. Inside Folsom Hall at the University of Maine at Presque Isle, a partial arc meant to represent our Yellow Star spans two floors!

A young student captured me here in between classes, and I was so excited to begin my 'star trek' through the Maine solar system. When I first documented all the worldwide scale solar systems, I never thought I'd be able to see this one so soon.

The rocky terrestrial planets are fairly close, of course. One can walk easily to tiny Mercury by the roadside.  Within view of this planet, Venus boasts a beautiful paint job!  Each planet is placed on giant poles so that they are visible from the road.

The local visitor centers, and some of the local Inns, have guides for the planetary route. It seems fairly straightforward just to follow Route 1 South, but many of the orbs can be hard to spot while also concentrating on driving. It's probably easier to scout and to take pictures if space geeks do this in pairs.

The small roadside plazas with Earth, Jupiter, and Saturn also each include various moons of the those planets.  Jupiter, another fantastic paint job, sports the most, with the depictions of the four Galilean Moons: Europa, Io, Ganymede and Callisto.  Like the planets, they are all 3-D orbs created to-scale, in the scale distance to their planet.

The scale of the entire route is 1 mile : 1 Astronomical Unit (AU). The AU is based on the distance from Earth to the Sun, or 93,000,000 miles.  Using this scale, Earth of course is precisely one mile out.  I tracked each of the rest and created a precise, printable guide (MSWord) if you are unable to find one of the local pamphlets. The Visitor Center volunteer told me they run out of them all the time because this feature of their landscape is so popular!

I had a great experience at Planet Uranus, which is right in front of the Bridgewater Town Hall. Talk about small town hospitality!  Two ladies came running out when they saw me trying to take a "selfie" (no easy feat, given the angles!) when I had no place to set the camera on a flat surface and set the timer.  They wanted to know where I was visiting from, and marveled at the distance I had flown to see their solar system, confirming they had not yet seen anyone from San Francisco!

 Out past the Gas Giants and the Ice Giants, the route boasts TWO distinct versions of Pluto -- one as a Dwarf Planet as of it's present position (as of 2006), and the older "planet" Pluto before it's designation changed. Beside the original Pluto inside the Houlton Visitor Center is its largest moon, Charon.  That's at the 40 mile mark. You have to go another 50+ miles to reach the terminus, at Dwarf Planet Eris, in Topsfield, Maine!

Scaled Solar System Strolls in America
Click on any of the photographs above to go to the Pillownaut Picasa Gallery, where all the Maine planets are shown, as well as photo collections of the last two solar system walks I completed in Belgium (2012) and California (2011).

Click here to print out a Maine Solar System Guide for the drive, and get thee to Maine!  If you're a space geek? Totally worth it!