Creating a scale model of a solar system isn’t so easy, especially when it stretches more than a half mile across much of the campus of Umpqua Community College.
Just ask UCC associate astronomy professor Paul Morgan. That’s been his task for the past several months, to design a Solar System Walk that allows for nearly 600 students and adults to move from “planet to planet” while giving them a taste of something they didn’t know before. The planning and work came together Thursday, thanks to fellow astronomy enthusiasts, other departments at UCC and from the community.
Morgan came up with the idea to use a Solar System Walk to bring the expansive cosmos a little more “down to earth.” The walk begins at a replica of the sun at the UCC track before continuing to each “planet.” Each station has model replicas of the planets, designed to show their size in relation to the sun. Volunteers stood at each station, teaching quick facts to students.
Morgan said 10 million kilometers in the actual solar system equals 1 meter on campus. In addition to the solar system of the Milky Way, Morgan also added the Kepler-90 solar system, which has eight planets, so participants can compare the two systems.
“Many local groups have partnered together to make this event fun and interesting for our community,” Morgan said.
That included instructors like Dave Bossuet, whose only formal teaching experience came from teaching Sunday school for 15 years.
Because the planet is tilted sideways on its access of rotation, that can make for really long summers,” Bossuet told students gathered around him.
Bossuet raised his hand and asked, “How many want 21-year summers?”
Cheers and yells greeted his response.
Up the hill along the track, volunteer Linda Freeman stood next to a model of the Earth, which compared to the much larger replica of the sun, looked more like the size of a lemon drop.
Lisa Eagan, a teacher at Fullerton IV Elementary School, singled out volunteers like Freeman who helped make the Solar System Walk exceed her expectations as a teacher.
“The presenters are very knowledgeable,” Eagan said. “It helps when they actually know their information and they can answer questions.”
For those who missed Thursday’s Solar System Walk, a second walk, which will be open to the public, will be held in conjunction with the second annual STEAM Extravaganza from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at Umpqua Community College.
“It enhances their learning experience and it also makes them think about just how big the solar system is,” Morgan said.