You may recall that Douglas Adams, in the Hitchhiker’s Guide series, warned of the dangers of having an accurate perspective on your place in the universe. He was speaking tongue-in-cheek, of course; there is nothing more bracing than getting a sense of the scale of something huge, even the solar system, which is pretty provincial as the universe goes. The following are some of the larger solar system models in the United States:
- Anchorage Light Speed Planet Walk. Designed so that a single step represents the distance light travels in one minute, assuming a gentle walking pace.
- Moab Model Solar System, Utah. Walk to the four inner planets, starting at the Sun Court near the Star Hall building; the locations of the outer planets are noted by markers on US 191 south of Moab.
- Sunspot Solar System Model, New Mexico. The Sun is at the National Solar Observatory’s Sacramento Peak facility in Sunspot, in the Lincoln National Forest not far from Cloudcroft, and Neptune is at the New Mexico Museum of Space History in Alamagordo.
- Walking Tour of the Solar System, Medicine Wheel Museum, Valley City, North Dakota. This one is fairly small, covering the distance from the Sun to Pluto in only a third of a mile. But you also get two earth-based calendars at this museum.
- Planet Trek Dane County, Wisconsin. The Sun is in Madison, and Pluto is about 23 miles away in Mt. Horeb. The solar system lies along two paved trails that you can walk or bike.
- Riverfront Museum Community Solar System, beginning in Peoria, Illinois, and extending out to minor planet Eris located 62 miles away at Western Illinois University. As model solar systems go, this one is fairly extensive, including three minor planets in all and some unnamed comets.
- Maine Solar System Model, covering 40 miles from the Presque Isle campus of the University of Maine to the Houlton Information Center where I-95 ends.