A Walking Tour of the Solar System

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This Solar System model stretches from the Sun, represented by the red center of the Medicine Wheel, to Pluto one-third of a mile away on the edge of the Regional Technology Center parking lot. On a scale of one foot to three million miles, boulders representing the planets are spaced in exact proportion to their distances from the Sun.

The Earth's orbit corresponds to the outer circle of the Medicine Wheel. The large rock nearest this panel represents Jupiter. Walking towards the Medicine Wheel, you will encounter Mars, Earth, Venus, and Mercury. By walking on the path east of Jupiter, you will pass by Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto. A panel at the scenic overlook between Uranus and Neptune describes the early history of Valley City.

Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to the Sun, is 25 trillion miles away. On this scale (15 billion times smaller than our Solar System), a boulder representing this star would be located in La Paz, Mexico, more than 500 miles beyond Phoenix, Arizona!

Scripts for Individual Planets

The Sun, planets, moons, asteroids, comets and related bodies orbiting the Sun are defined as the Solar System. The Sun contains 99.85% of the total mass of the Solar System.

The nearer a planet is to the Sun the shorter its year. The length of a Mercury year is only 88 days. Mercury has the greatest surface temperature range of the planets, reaching 870F in the day and minus 360F at night.

This planet's inhospitable surface is the hottest in the Solar System with a barometric pressure 90 times greater than Earth's. Only Earth's Moon outshines this planet in the night sky.

Conditions are just right on Earth, the only planet known to contain life. It has oceans, mountains, rivers, canyons, blue skies and four seasons. It is our beautiful 'Home, Sweet Home.'

Mars is home to the Solar System's largest known volcano which is 3 times higher than Mt. Everest. It also boasts the longest known canyon of any planet, which would stretch across the entire United States.

This planet features the 'Great Red Spot,' a huge storm. Jupiter's moon Ganymede is the largest in the Solar System and is bigger than Mercury. If Jupiter, the largest planet, were 75 times more massive, it would be a star.

Although Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune also have rings, Saturn's rings are by far the most spectacular. Its largest moon, Titan, has a more extensive atmosphere than Earth.

Using a telescope, William Herschel discovered Uranus in 1781. Like Jupiter and Saturn, Uranus is composed mainly of hydrogen and helium, but a small amount of methane makes the surface blue.

Neptune is comparable in size and composition to Uranus. While the Voyager 2 spacecraft needed 12 years to arrive at Neptune, you can reach this planet on the path after a walk of a few minutes.

Even the Earth's Moon is larger than the smallest planet, Pluto. It's status as a planet has recently come into question, as over 300 similar but smaller icy objects have been found in the region beyond Neptune since 1992.

Astronomy Quiz

1. Which planet has an atmosphere composed primarily of nitrogen?
2. Will life ever be discovered beyond Earth?
3. Which planet has clouds made from droplets of sulfuric acid?
4. Are there planets around other stars?
5. Which planet's surface most resembles the Moon's surface?
6. Between which planets is the asteroid belt located?
7. Which planets have no moons?
8. What is the most abundant element in the Universe?
9. Why are there no dinosaurs on Earth today?
10. Which planet has never been visited by a spacecraft?

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