The solar system contained in a city

By Dale Woodard on September 25, 2021.

Lethbridge Astronomy Photo – Above: The scale model of the planet Jupiter is located on the patio of the Science Commons Building, University of Lethbridge.

Want to take a cruise in the solar system?
All you will need is a small part of your day, and you won’t even need Warp Speed.
Through a little creative scaling, the Lethbridge Astronomy Society brought the entire solar system to Lethbridge.
It starts in the heart of downtown with the 5.5-meter-diameter dome on the post office building representing the sun.
From there, members of the Lethbridge Astronomy Society calculated the size of each planet and the location of its orbit relative to which local historical landmark.
Earth, for example, is the size of a tennis ball, and its orbit falls near the downtown fire station.
Each planet model is sized to scale and placed on a pedestal that bears a plaque with basic planet facts and a QR code that links to the Astronomy Society website (www.lethbridgeastronomysociety.ca) for more information.
“This whole project was conceived over 10 years ago by one of our club members, Klaus Jericho,” said Tom Anderson, president of the Lethbridge Astronomy Society. “There are solar system models similar to this in other places. But the idea to install it in downtown Lethbridge using the dome of the post office building came from Klaus. Only about two or two and a half years ago, we were able to raise some funds to make this a reality. “
The project is funded by grants from the Community Foundation of Lethbridge and Southwestern Alberta, Richardson Oilseed, Telus and Ward Bros. Construction, with the University of Lethbridge and Lethbridge School Division / Chinook High School funding their own models.
When that was in place, the building of the local solar system took shape.
“You imagine the sun, which is a huge ball of gas in the middle of our solar system, we’re going to shrink it, it’s now the size of the post office dome,” Anderson said. “If the sun was only that big, then how big would the planets be in relation to that and where would their orbits fly in relation to all of this?” So we built all of these models. They are all earth except the one at Chinook High School, it will be Saturn. It will probably be in place within the next week or two. It’s a much more complicated exhibit than the other because Saturn has these wonderful rings.
The planet closest to the sun, Mercury, is located at the downtown library.
“It’s about a half inch plus a little bit in diameter,” Anderson said. “The farthest planet from the sun is Neptune and it is in Park Lake, 11 miles away. You have that 18 km distance to the post office dome, which is only five and a half meters in diameter, but it’s a fairly small dome that is five and a half meters in diameter and it sort of generates quite of gravity to keep this planet in orbit at 18 km. It’s unbelievable to me. This is really the point of the exercise, to educate people, to help them understand the size of our solar system and the size relationship between the different planets and just to have a better understanding of the universe we live in. .
With the sun located at the Post Building, the rest of the solar system took shape.
Venus is located in the Old Courthouse next to the Sterndale.
“Venus is about the size of the earth, so think of a tennis ball,” Anderson said. “The moon is a correct distance from the model of the earth by the main fire station just off Scenic.
Mars is at the Galt Museum, Anderson said.
“We don’t have the asteroid belt, but if we did, it would basically be the Old Man River.”
Jupiter is in the Science Commons at the University of Lethbridge, Saturn is in Chinook High School, and Uranus is in Broxburn, while Neptune “orbits” in Park Lake.
“So you can drive around and see them all in a lovely morning and afternoon,” Anderson said. “They can take a bike ride to Neptune and back. Neptune and back are pretty close to the distance of a marathon and that opens up possibilities. “
Anderson noted another interesting piece of information while setting up the project.
“It’s a bit of a fluke, but it’s pretty cool,” he said. “If you take our model’s scaling ratio, it’s one in 253 million in the real world. But if you increase the speed of light by this same ratio, it corresponds to the speed of walking. Sunlight takes about eight minutes to travel from the sun to the earth and that’s about the time it will take you to walk from the post office to the fire station. The walking speed is the speed of light according to our model. So if you jump on your bike, you are riding at high speed. “
The next step will be to put plaques on each of the installations on the planet.
Currently there are QR codes at each of the locations.
“If you scan this with your phone, it will take you to our website and there’s all kinds of additional information on the website on the planets,” Anderson said. “There’s a section with quick facts or if you want to start a much more in-depth discussion of the characteristics of the planet, that’s there too. You can see all of this directly on the website or if you are on one of the pedestals and also want to scan the QR code that will take you there.
Anderson said the solar system will be a permanent part of the city.
“It will be a good draw for creative business opportunities and school groups can have passports and they can have ambassadors for each planet, learn more about the planet and tell their classmates about the planet.”
Visit http://www.lethbridgeastronomysociety.ca to learn more about the club and a description of the project.

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