Walking among the planets
The Rotary Club of Anchorage raised $620,000 for the planet walk, which includes this three-sided digital Sun station. Photo courtesy of Rotary Club of Anchorage
In Anchorage, Alaska, USA, you don’t need a telescope to look at the planets -- you can walk to them.
The secret is a scale-model planet walk created by the Rotary Club of Anchorage and amateur astronomer Eli Menaker. Interested trekkers start in downtown Anchorage at a 3-ton model of the sun and encounter each of the planets along a 10-mile route ending at a ski chalet.
Every step equals 186,000 miles, and heading to Jupiter from Earth is a little more than a half-hour stroll.
Menaker introduced the idea for a temporary walk to city officials in 2003 while a student at Service High School in Anchorage. Before heading off to Middlebury College in Vermont, he was approached by Anchorage Rotarians with the idea of making permanent planet displays, as part of the club's centennial project.
"We ended up drawing from people in different walks of life. We had fundraisers, we had engineers and people with science backgrounds," says club member Julius Brecht, an attorney and former NASA physicist.
The Anchorage club raised more than $620,000 to enhance Menaker’s plan.
Stepping it up
Menaker says his original Sun was a circular tarp covered with yellow adhesive tape. “I quickly realized we had to step that up," he said.
A local artist used over 2,400 ceramic tiles to craft a 12-foot-by-6-foot hemispherical model of the sun and sculpted sunspots to scale.
Menaker wrote text describing the planets and consulted with an artist and a contractor to configure the planet kiosks. Brecht and others worked to create a digital display for the Sun station at the start of the walk.
"I told our committee that what would really add some zing would be to make it interactive," says Brecht.
Rotarians designed the three-sided, 9-foot-tall Sun station with three screens on which participants can view Native American sun stories and NASA images.
Before the club dedicated the walk to the city in August 2006, members reached out to the city’s school district and to the Imaginarium science center to incorporate the project into their curriculums. Additionally, Rotarians have pushed the fitness aspect of the walk through events like the Run/Walk Winter Solstice Challenge on 21 December.
"Early on we resolved to involve other organizations so that this thing will have life not because of individuals, but because of the ties we made with local institutions," Brecht says.
Learn more about the planet walk