A trip through the solar system

Local organizations and volunteers bring the planets to Twin Lakes

Posted: Friday, August 30, 2002

The distance of Pluto from the sun is 3,666,000,000 miles. In Juneau, people can make the trip by walking, biking or skating 5,280 feet.

Volunteers from various nonprofit organizations and schools in Juneau, led by Marie Drake Planetarium volunteer Michael Orelove, have spent sunny days this summer painting a walkable solar system on the Twin Lakes walking trail.

On Sunday, an opening celebration for the planet walk will allow people to get an idea of the relative size of the planets in our solar system.

"I thought it would be a fun way to teach astronomy," said Orelove, who proposed the idea to the city Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee in June. "I also thought it was a fun way to honor different nonprofit organizations as well as different school classes."

Volunteers from the Juneau Raptor Center, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southeast Alaska, the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Juneau Mountain Rescue, the Daughters of the New Moon, KTOO and the Juneau Pioneers' Home, as well as students from the Riverbend Elementary School and the Juneau Montessori School and a former firefighter, contributed their artistic talents to the project.

"We tried to let every group have some sort of connection to the planet they were painting," Orelove said. "Daughters of the New Moon, the belly-dancing group, they wear a lot of rings. So we gave them Saturn, because of its rings. KTOO plays a lot of tunes, so we gave them Neptune," he said.

The spacing of the planets is based on a scale that places Pluto exactly one mile from the sun, whose painted version is under the swing set at Twin Lakes. Orelove's niece, Eden Orelove, calculated the relative sizes and distances of the planets.

"If we used the same scale for both size and distance, Pluto would be 42 miles away," Eden said.

Michael Orelove heard of planet walks in an astronomy magazine.

"There are planet walks all over the world, and I thought this would be a neat type of thing for Juneau," Orelove said.

He originally thought of using the road system to make a planet drive instead of a planet walk, which would have allowed the relative size and distance of the planets to be on the same scale, but decided that a walking tour in a family-friendly location would be better.

Steve Cosgrove, the chief painter in the project, is happy with the results.

"I learned a lot more about astronomy," he said. "It was a really fun project, and it's great to see that the kids are enjoying it."

The celebration will take place at noon on Sunday, rain or shine.

"We'll have a few speeches and see if we can get a cannon to fire off and get a 'big bang' to symbolize the start of the universe," Orelove said.

He expects people to participate on foot, bikes or in-line skates, but he believes that "most people, in their own imaginations, will be in some sort of space ship bound for the stars."

Christine Schmid can be reached at cschmid@juneauempire.com.



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