Friday, September 6, 2013

Our Little Solar System

I'm a big fan of road art, and I had an idea in the early summer of a fun road art project. But it was hard to get the time, energy, and materials needed to implement it. I gave myself a deadline: it needed to be up before the Great Basin National Park Astronomy Festival on September 5-7. And fortunately it's up! Here's the newest road art on the park road.
The solar system has arrived! We begin with the sun (which later blew over so is now oriented slightly differently.)

Mercury, the closest planet to the sun. My helpers were enthusiastic for the inner planets.

Venus, our nearby neighbor. Wow, it looks small!

Go, Earth!

Oops, Mars is a little blurry. Must be a telescope error.

Intermission to drill holes in the boards!

What's after Mars? Well, we did put up Jupiter, but then we came back and put up five dwarf planets, including Ceres, which is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Then comes Jupiter, the biggest planet in our solar system!

Saturn, Desert Girl's favorite planet. Our Saturn keeps losing its ring, though.

It's a long way to the next planet, Uranus (which should be bluish, but I had lost energy by this time, so if anyone wants to paint it blue, go for it!).

And what's the last planet in our solar system?
Neptune! (which should also be bluish)

But wait, what about Pluto? Most of us were taught that we have nine planets in our solar system. Those days are gone. In 2006, the International Astronomical Union came up with a definition of planets, and Pluto just didn't meet it. So now it's a dwarf planet.
Little Pluto, a cold rocky planet far, far away.

The good thing about Pluto becoming a dwarf planet is that we also got a few more dwarf planets, with more probably to be discovered.

Meet dwarf planet Haumea (which is slightly oversized in the model, but we had run out of little, tiny balls).

And here's Makemake (which we have a lot of fun pronouncing).

Finally there's Eris, the largest of the dwarf planets. (And maybe the hardest to find in our little solar system, since we had to switch to a different fence.)

To space these planets, I found Dr. Jerry Galloway's website that had both a 100 foot backyard model and also a four-mile model. I made adjustments to make it about two miles long. It was a nine-planet based system, so then I looked for information about the dwarf planets and fitted them in. They might not be exact, but neither are their orbits. Several of the planets and dwarf planets change order depending on where they are in their orbit (for example, Neptune and Pluto).

Here are the distances if you're interested, along with diameter sizes scaled for a four-mile long course (I chose to make my planet diameters not to scale, as I wanted them to be visible while driving 60 mph along the road, but wanted to give you an idea in case you want to make your own solar system model):

Astronomical body distance diameter (inches)
Sun 0 60
Mercury 105 feet 0.2
Venus 185 feet 0.5
Earth 271 feet 0.6
Mars 413 feet 0.3
Ceres* ~600 feet <.1
Jupiter ¼ mile 6.2
Saturn ½ mile 5.2
Uranus 1 mile 2.2
Neptune 1 ½ mile 2.2
Pluto* 2 mile 0.1
Haumea* 2.1 mile <.1
Makemake* 2.2 mile <.1
Eris* 2.5 mile 0.1
*dwarf planet

Running or biking on the park road will now have some new landmarks--can you make it to Jupiter in ten minutes? How about Uranus?

I consider the road art as community art, so anyone who would like to improve on the art (for example, making better planets or a ring that will stay on Saturn) or add to it (e.g., asteroid belt, other celestial objects) is welcome!


jhami said...

Haha very cool and creative guys!

G. Robison said...

Love it!

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