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Sagan Planet Walk: Down-to-Earth Cosmic Scale

Courtesy: Cornell University

How best to put the distance between the Sun and the nearest star in perspective?

Now the world’s largest exhibition – extending from New York to Hawaii – is to do just that and will be dedicated this week. The exhibition is named after the late Cornell astronomer Carl Sagan.

Called the Sagan Planet Walk it features a 1-to-5-billion scale model of the solar system, with tiny planetary spheres scattered across three-quarters of a mile in Ithaca, New York – home of Cornell University.

The exhibition now stretches to Hilo, Hawaii with the addition of a sculpture representing Alpha Centauri C – the nearest star outside of the solar system.

The Alpha Centauri station includes a large Hawaiian figure, sculpted in Hawaiian volcanic stone, that represents Alpha Centauri in female form; an etched semicircle below the figure’s chin is the size of Alpha Centurai scaled to the Planet Walk model.

Graphic panels next to the figure describe the scale of the solar system, the connection with Ithaca and the ways that Alpha Centauri is used by Polynesian voyagers for navigating without instruments across the Pacific Ocean in open, double-hulled canoes.

The new station is located at the ‛Imiloa Astronomy Center on the University of Hawaii’s Hilo campus. The expanded walk will measure 5,000 miles from end to end.

“Imagine standing at the Alpha Centauri station on Hawaii and looking east over the Pacific Ocean. Some 8,000 kilometers away, at another exhibition station in downtown Ithaca is a pale blue dot only 2.5 millimeters in diameter representing Earth,” said Charles Trautmann, adjunct professor of civil and environmental engineering at Cornell University in a Cornell University press statement.

Trautmann is also the executive director of Ithaca’s Sciencenter, a hands-on science museum that first spearheaded the project in 1997.

On Sept. 28 the new station will be dedicated in Hawai‛i, with a celebration to follow Sept. 29 in Ithaca.

By Leonard David


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