You can have fun with astronomy in McBride even on a rainy day! Starting from the sun (a street lamp near the railway station) travel down Main Street and find each planet’s orbit as you head to the outer solar system. At approx. 3 billion-to-one scale, the walk from the Sun to Neptune is 1.5 km, 3 km return.
Yellow arrows show where the model orbits cross Main Street sidewalks. Signs on lamp posts show the exact scale model size of each planet.
Photo looking from Saturn’s orbit to the railway station, where the model sun is a globe street lamp (visible in the far distance)
The real setting sun dimmed by forest fire smoke behind the street lamp which serves as McBride’s scale model sun, as photographed by standing at model earth orbit. By looking at this street lamp from other places such as the model orbits of Mercury or Jupiter, you can get an idea of how large (or small!) the sun would look in the skies of the real planets if you became an astronaut and travelled to them. Scroll down for maps to find your way around the model.
Seeing the real solar system
At dusk in early 2017, Earth’s closest neighbours are on show above our own planet’s south-western horizon. Look for Venus, the bright object in the south-western sky at dusk (you can even see it in daylight!). Nearby is much fainter Mars, shining orange from its rusty soil. These planets soon set behind the mountains, gone by early evening. Jupiter rises in the east around midnight, moving west and visible until dawn. Saturn is harder to find, a yellowish bright object low in the south before dawn. A small telescope is all that is needed to give you a glimpse of Saturn’s rings. Even binoculars will show you its moon Titan, and up to four moons around the solar system’s biggest planet, Jupiter.
This is an exciting time in our history for planetary exploration. The spacecraft called Juno went into orbit around Jupiter on July 4, 2016, so it is fun to realize as you look at these planets in the sky, you can also see amazing close up views of them–each of these planets now has spacecraft in orbit around them, plus two rovers crawling across that rusty orange Martian landscape! Click the Jupiter link to see the latest close up views and news from Juno.
Looking at the array of planets that were known by people in ancient times but unfathomable to them, it is incredible to think that we live in a time when we have managed to send spacecraft to every one. Here are links to NASA and JAXA web pages showing current or recent missions to each planet: Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Earth and Moon from one million miles away, Venus, and Mercury (mission now ended).
2015 and 2016 were amazing years for solar system exploration. In addition to rovers crawling over the rocks and dunes of Mars, and the Cassini orbiter making spectacular images of Saturn and its moons, history was made with three other missions. The Dawn spacecraft has reached its final low orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres, and has revealed mysterious bright spots. Pluto had its first ever visit from Earth as the New Horizons spacecraft dashed by it on July 14, 2015.
On November 12, 2014, in the closest comet encounter in the history of science, ESA sent a small craft, Philae, on a risky landing onto comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Visit this European Space Agency (ESA) link to the best close up views of a comet ever taken: sci.esa.int/rosetta/
By their nature planets are always on the move. For some ways to find out where things are, here are some more excellent links to explore:
Sky News, the Canadian Magazine of Astronomy and Stargazing, with current charts showing where to see many objects in the sky: www.skynews.ca
Astronomical seeing conditions and forecasts at Environment Canada
Up to the moment sun spot and flare information, aurora alerts, space station flyovers, and much more: www.spaceweather.com
Space news and planetary exploration at NASA: www.nasa.gov
We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Province of British Columbia through the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training, the Omineca Beetle Action Coalition, and the Regional District of Fraser-Fort George. Images of planets on brochure cover, Saturn in web page heading and orbital data courtesy NASA/JPL and ESA. Other photos, layout and design by Matthew G. Wheeler. Thank you to the Village of McBride and the many volunteers who made the solar system project possible.