Walk Our Solar System

By Logan Kugler

WAIMEA, HI — How would you like to take a stroll to Venus? Has your family always wanted to visit Saturn? You’ll get your chance on Saturday, November 8th at the 4th Waimea Solar System Walk. Sponsored by the Canada France Hawaii Telescope and the W. M. Keck Observatory, the Solar System Walk takes place from 10 A.M. to 2 P.M. in the town of Waimea. 

For the walk, the two observatories lay out a scale model of the solar system through Waimea. But in this case, “scale model” doesn’t mean something you might see in a museum — the Solar Walk covers a half mile. The Sun is located on the lawn of Keck Observatory, while the outer planets are found around a bend in space (aka the Mamalahoa Highway), with the farthest objects at the headquarters of the CFHT. Tents are set up for each of our solar system neighbors, including the planets, the asteroid belt, Pluto and other objects in the farthest reaches. Staff from the observatories as well as volunteers are at each tent, prepared with information and activities to educate their interplanetary visitors about that particular heavenly body.

The learning isn’t confined to the tents, though — the size of the layout itself is an educational experience. “Walking through the Solar System and getting a feel for how distant the outer planets are from the sun gives people a sense of the enormity of our Solar System” says Mary Beth Laychak, Outreach Program Manager at CFHT. The sun and the inner planets are relatively close to each other, with the Mercury tent located only about 20 feet from the Sun, and the Earth tent less than 100 feet away. But at that scale, the Neptune booth is almost a half-mile away. Walking from the cluster of the inner planets all the way out to the far reaches of Uranus and Neptune will give budding space buffs a sense of just how vast their cosmic neighborhood is.

The Universe is absolutely immense. It’s so big that our human brains can’t even begin to comprehend its size: the numbers are so vast we have nothing to compare them to. But our very own solar system is manageable to understand. Just barely. Some think they understand the size and scope, but most have no idea. Our solar system isn’t always how it’s depicted in the classroom.

Come out to this event and get a real feel for the size of our solar system as you walk the distance and get to see it in more tangible terms than ever before.

Visitors can record their space travels by getting a “passport” at Keck Observatory headquarters. At each tent, they can get a stamp recording their touchdown and exploration, and keiki who complete their passports will receive a prize from Imiloa Astronomy Center as well as the opportunity to take a picture of yourself on your favorite planets with Imiloa’s green screen camera. 

Besides the tents, members of the West Hawai’i Astronomy club will be on-hand, offering views of the Sun through solar telescopes. If the skies are clear and conditions are right, visitors might be able to view sunspots and other solar activity.

Liftoff is November 8. Start your countdowns now!