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So I was thrilled to read an interesting Quora answer to a question about the scale of the Solar System that combined easily digestible math with a statewide Solar System project. The question, paraphrased, is thus: if Earth were the size of a golf ball, how big would the Solar System, etc., be?
The answer, from contributor Jennifer George, a self-described “Bibliomaniac” and “Information Omnivore,” also paraphrased, is simple: travel up Highway 1 in the State of Maine.
According to Ms. George, the project began in 1998 and was completed in 2003. It’s known as The Maine Solar System Model, and it still sports a website from the early, Wild West days of the Internet (it looks like an Angelfire or Geocities website). Ms. George writes that the model is 95 miles in length, with a scale of 1:93,000,000 miles (93 million miles is an Astronomical Unit, or AU, and is the distance between the Earth and the Sun). It starts in northern Aroostook County, Maine with a 50-foot Sun, and ends in Houlton, Maine with a one-inch Pluto (according to Bing! Maps, the distance from Presque Isle and Houlton is only 41.9 miles, so her 95-mile claim may be inaccurate).
The project is maintained with volunteer labor from local Maine companies. Ms. George helpfully supplied a link to a news article about the repainting of the large Jupiter model. Maine’s harsh winters eroded Jupiter’s vibrant colors, including the infamous Great Red Spot, and the fiberglass construction required from repairs.
The Sun is located in Presque Isle, Maine, with Mars at the town’s welcome sign. That gives you a sense for the proximity of the Sun, Mercury, Venus, the Earth, and Mars. Jupiter is just north of a town called (appropriately) Mars Hill. The planets then become much more distant, and quickly.
One day, I’d like to get up to Maine to see this model. Really, I’d just like to get up to Maine for a variety of reasons—it’s beautiful New England countryside, Stephen King makes it sound super creepy, etc. Also, the home county of The Maine Solar System Model, Aroostook County, is also the namesake of the long-forgotten Aroostook War, a bloodless (other than two black bear attacks) border conflict between Maine and Canadian lumberjacks over the amorphous, disputed northern border.
Until that day comes, it’s South Carolina festivals for me. But one day I’ll reach for the stars—or, at least, the fiberglass planets of northeastern Maine.