We would like to invite you and your family to take a walk through our solar system. Not the real solar system - that would take many lifetimes! A scale model of our solar system is being built along the Marshall County Trail. The start of the trail is just west of the intersection of Baltimore and Seventh streets in Glen Dale, with access made from the swimming pool and park area.
The NanoScale PlanetWalk is an interactive one-billionth scale model of our actual solar system. Markers showing the scale size of the sun are painted on the trail between the trail-head "Sun" located in Glen Dale and "Neptune" located at the southwestern corner of the Prima Marina parking lot in Moundsville. Each location marker has the name of each of the eight respective planets painted on it.
You can download the printouts of the eight planets on the NanoScale at www.smartcenter.org
The NanoScale Neptune
Activity: Walk from the Sun to the planet Mars
If we look at the biggest objects in the solar system, we find that the solar system is home to one star we call the Sun and eight planets. At the NanoScale our home star, the Sun, is a huge glowing sphere 139 cm (54.8 inches) across. We know there used to be nine planets - more about Pluto later.
To remember the order of the planets, our good friend Mickey Massey, former Glen Dale Elementary fifth-grade teacher, tells us about using the memory trick of using the first letter of the phrase: "My Very Excellent Mother Just Served Us Nachos."
Let's look at the first letter of each word and match it with the first letter of the eight planets as we leave the Sun. "M" is for Mercury, the smallest planet. Mercury is a cratered, airless and moonless world closest to the Sun. At the NanoScale, the planet Mercury would be a tiny dark sphere just under half a centimeter (0.2 inches) across.
"V" stands for Venus, the second planet, a bright cloudy world 1.21 cm (0.48 inches) in diameter. Venus is just slightly smaller than the Earth, but there all likeness to the Earth ends. Venus is a moonless world having a crushing and poisonous atmosphere of acid and carbon dioxide. The surface of Venus is hotter than you could ever get your home oven.
Next is, you guessed it, "E" for the Earth. The Earth with its single moon is your home world. On the NanoScale, the Earth is a watery blue white marble sized world 1.27 cm (half an inch) across.
The fourth letter and fourth planet starts with "M" for little Mars. With almost no atmosphere and just over half the size of the Earth, it is a rust colored world 0.68 cm (0.27 - just over a quarter of an inch) across. Mars is frozen with nights colder than any winter on Earth. At one time the planet Mars had oceans and may have had life. Now Mars is a dusty, sandy, cratered world frozen and asleep with two tiny moons in its skies. Is there still life below the shifting sand dunes and pink sky? We do not know. Maybe Mars never had life. We will just have to wait for future explorers like you to find out.
Activity: Journey to the Giant of the Gas Giants
Beyond Mars is a belt of rocky leftovers from the formation of the planets. The Asteroid Belt divides the planets into two groups. The four inner planets we just named are all small, warm and have solid rocky surfaces. The outer four planets are cold, many-mooned gas giants with no solid surfaces, just gigantic cloudy atmospheres.
As you continue to walk along the trail, you will notice that there seems to be a great deal of empty space. There are plenty of asteroids here but no planets. About 3.4 times the distance from the Sun to Mars you reach the king of the planets, the largest planet in the solar system. The letter "J" stands for Jupiter. Jupiter is a giant among the gas giants. Jupiter at the NanoScale is a slightly flattened ball 14.3 cm (5.6 inches) across. Remember the Earth at the NanoScale was 1.27 cm across. Jupiter is so huge you could fit 1,320 Earths under its brightly banded clouds and still have some room left. Jupiter has 63 known moons. Some day, you may help to discover more.
Activity: To Saturn, Uranus and Neptune - if you dare
There is a bench just south of Jupiter. Better sit down and decide if you have the energy and time to go on. You have traveled just over 778 meters (just under half a mile) to Jupiter. The next planet - "S" for Saturn - is almost twice as far and is near the boundary line of Glen Dale and Moundsville. Saturn is a slightly smaller and more flattened ball than massive Jupiter, but this is made up for by a beautiful ring system. Saturn is 12.1 cm (4.76 inches) across and 10.9 cm (4.29 inches) thick top to bottom. The main ring systems at the NanoScale are 29.3 cm (11.5 inches) wide. Saturn has 61 known moons and 200 moonlets found in the rings.
If you reach Saturn, consider that the next planet that starts with the letter "U" for Uranus is almost two times farther from the Sun than Saturn is. This places the seventh planet Uranus just north of the wooden bridge along the trail. Uranus' distance is 2,877 meters (1.79 miles) from the NanoScale Sun in Glen Dale. With 27 known moons, pale blue Uranus is almost four times the diameter of the Earth. At the NanoScale, Uranus is 5.05 cm (almost exactly 2 inches) across.
The NanoScale PlanetWalk ends at the eighth and last planet, the blue colored gas giant Neptune found in the southwestern corner of the Prima Marina parking lot. Neptune at the NanoScale would be a sky-blue sphere just slightly smaller than Uranus - 4.9 cm (1.9 inches) across, having 13 known moons. Walking to Neptune along the NanoScale PlanetWalk is just over 4.5 kilometers (2.80 miles) from the Nano-sized Sun in Glen Dale.
If we were to continue south beyond Neptune along the NanoScale PlanetWalk we would enter the realm of the Kuiper Belt Objects - a remote disk of cold icy worlds that would be comets if they were nudged closer to the warmth of the Sun. It is here that we find Pluto. Pluto is the closest and one of the largest Kuiper Belt Objects found so far. Only a few short years ago Pluto was known as a planet; now Pluto is classified as a dwarf planet.
The first of three phases of the NanoScale PlanetWalk is the painted locations and names of the Sun and eight planets along the Marshall County Trail. Phase two of the project is funded in part by the West Virginia NASA Space Grant Consortium and sponsored by Near Earth Object Foundation, ASTROLABE astronomy club, SMART-Center, and SMART Centre Market. Stone markers with information will be laser engraved and placed at ground level at the side of the trail with selected information.
Phase three of the project will include a website where a grade-level appropriate podcast may be downloaded that corresponds to each of the solar system sites.
The public is asked to get involved in the NanoScale PlanetWalk project. Any information, facts, ideas or concepts that the public wants to be placed on the NanoScale PlanetWalk stone markers and podcasts will be considered for final incorporation. Send suggestions to Robert Strong at email@example.com
Libby and Robert Strong and Richard Pollack work with the SMART Center, a hands-on science outreach and education organization in the northern Ohio Valley, the headquarters of which is located at the SMART-Centre Market, 30 22nd St., Wheeling. Visit them at www.smartcenter.org.