Sunday, May 27, 2018

Solar System

Jack and Eli have built a model of the Solar System at Deep Springs:

For several weeks, Eli and I have been planning and assembling an accurate scale model of the solar system stretching from the main campus to the lake corrals. We expect to put it all in place today. You may notice some stumps with spheres glued to rocks on top of them, notably near the dairy barn and on the road to the lake. Please, PLEASE do NOT move or otherwise disturb them. If any of them are causing problems, please let me know and I'll figure out a solution. We hope everyone will have a chance to take a look and enjoy it! We hope to leave it in place for at least a few weeks to give lots of people opportunities to check it out, and I'm sure Eli would be delighted to give in-person tours to anyone.

We were inspired by the fact that there's simply no adequate way to depict the proper scale and relationships of the planets and their orbits on paper or on screen. Only a large model such as this can really impart an accurate sense of the sizes and distances in play. We were inspired by an excellent video of a similar project in Nevada's Black Rock Desert ( Thanks to that region's flatness, those people were able to drive vehicles on their orbital paths and produce some great video of the results. Deep Springs doesn't offer quite the same possibilities, but we felt obligated to take advantage of our access to a large, mostly empty desert valley and make something similar in the space we have.

For those interested in details, the scale we are working with falls out to 1:404,324,324 (about twice as large as that used by the Black Rock folks, thanks to our not needing to drive our orbits). The Sun will be depicted on the side of the block house, while Neptune will be at the lake corrals - all other measurements flowed from these choices. This gives our Sun a diameter of 3.44 meters and Earth a diameter of 3.15 centimeters. Our calculations surely have rounding errors and other mistakes, and our actual constructions are necessarily imperfect; however I'm confident that they're sufficiently in the ballpark to impart a reasonably true sense of the scales in question. I've attached some Google Earth screenshots to give a birds-eye view of the project.

Some additional trivia:
In this model, Pluto's average distance from the Sun would put it out past the DS Lake bed at the base of the slopes beyond; its perihelion would be just inside Neptune's orbit a couple hundred yards before the corrals; and its aphelion would be well up in the hills near Westgard Pass.
Voyager I, humanity's furthest-ranging spacecraft, has made it nearly to the crest of the Palisades, or assuming a different direction, nearly to the Fishlake Hot Springs.
Going much bigger, the Oort Cloud, which represents the beginning of the end of the Solar System and the Sun's sphere of influence, would be located a ways past Madagascar.
Proxima Centauri, our nearest neighboring star, requires a different approach - at this scale it would be found about 99,350 kilometers away, approximately a quarter of the way to the (actual) moon.
Happy end of term to all!

Jackson and Eli

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