Walk through the Solar System

A scale model of the solar system, laid out along Mamalahoa Highway through the center of Waimea. That is what we create every year for the Waimea Solar System Walk.

Starting on the lawn of Keck Observatory headquarters you can walk from the Sun to the outer solar system at the Canada France Hawai’i Telescope headquarters. Four and a half billion kilometers reduced to one kilometer (2.8 billion miles to about 1/2 mile). At this scale the Earth becomes a the size of a small bead and Jupiter a marble. Walking a model like this give a whole new appreciation for the scale of our solar system, driving home the idea that space is really, really big.

Dozens of kids and parents took advantage of the event to learn a bit about space and astronomy. Starting at the Sun they could wander from the inner solar system to the outer solar system. Passports handed out at Keck HQ were stamped at each planet along the way as the tour and each planet was manned by volunteers to answer questions.

Against the odds, it was a pretty nice day in Waimea. The characteristic strong winds and blowing drizzle was absent. We had sunny skies and when the wind died away in the afternoon, it became somewhat hot. This allowed for great views through the solar telescopes and nice conditions to stroll the length of the main street.

The experience was aided by volunteers who came in from organizations across the island, each bringing some educational fun to the planet walk. Nancy Tashima from the Onizuka Center covered Mercury, using some great material from the MESSENGER mission including 3D photos and glasses.

Gary Fujihara brought a splendid collection of meteorites. Using the asteroid belt as his home base to educate folks about the many minor bodies in the solar system and the material that falls to Earth.

Keck and CFHT staff put everything together and manned most of the booths. Members of the West Hawai’i Astronomy club helped out at registration and brought solar telescopes to view our Sun. Given clear skies in Waimea the view was fantastic. There were several good sunspots and wonderful prominences to be seen. It was great to see all those who volunteered their Saturday to help out.

A lot of smiling faces to be seen as kids and parents explored our solar system and learned. Always nice when you can slip a little knowledge in with the fun.

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on the island of Hawaiʻi.

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