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Planet Walk

Planet Walk
Planet Walk
Mark Steven Williams, an amateur astronomer from Elizabeth and the event organizer, shows a peppercorn that represented our planet, and held a toy ball that represented the Sun. (Photo by Alan Stewart)

Thirty-five would-be space travelers took a 90-minute trek through our solar system Saturday along South Capitol Avenue in Corydon.
The first Planet Walk, the first event put on by the Harrison County YMCA Astronomy Club in Harrison County, was an eye-opening glimpse into distances that are almost incomprehensible. Various objects, such as a peppercorn (which symbolized Earth), pinheads (Mars, Pluto), a toy ball (the Sun), an acorn (Saturn) and even a Peppermint Pattie (Jupiter), were used to illustrate how enormous the solar system is.
‘We are attempting to demonstrate the sheer vastness of space,’ said club coordinator and amateur astronomer Mark Steven Williams of Elizabeth. ‘It’s difficult to get a sense of how tiny our little planet is. Books, posters, even models in our major museums and planetariums don’t convey the vast distances right here in our little neighborhood in space.’
So, Williams tried to do it.
His ‘model’ stretched from the entrance to the Harrison County Fairgrounds in south Corydon to the 600 block of North Capitol Avenue on the other side of the universe ‘ er, town
The Sun, represented by an eight-inch diameter toy ball, was placed near the fairgrounds’ entrance. Jupiter, the largest planet, was represented by a Peppermint Pattie and was located near the north end of the bridge over Little Indian Creek on South Capitol Avenue. It was about 135 paces from the fairgrounds’ entrance to Jupiter. Uranus, a peanut that marked the halfway point of Williams’ solar system scheme, found its ‘orbit’ on the sidewalk in front of the Town Square Gallery opposite the Corydon town square. The ninth planet, tiny Pluto, was represented by a pinhead in front of Toler’s Furniture Store on North Capitol ‘ six-tenths of a mile from the fairgrounds.
Each step the group took represented a whopping 3.6 million miles away from the Sun. The ‘space travelers’ came across the paths of each of the planets, where Williams and young members of the Astronomy Club gave a short explanation of the planet, how it got its name, and its most interesting traits before they moved on to the next celestial object.
The planets and their personal earthly ‘representatives’ were: Mercury, Caroline Turcotte; Venus, Hannah Rosenbaum; Earth, Allie Fessel; Mars, Brenden Ponder; Jupiter, Daniel Fisher (a last-minute replacement for his ailing brother, Bradley); Saturn, Elise Chapman; Uranus, Katie Lyell and her mother, Gena; Neptune, Meghan Bussa-barger, and Pluto, Kenna Chapman. Arthur Turcotte, the expedition navigator, paced off the distances to the various planets.
The correctness of scale made the tour even more intriguing. For instance, the size of the ball, when viewed from the makeshift Earth, was the same proportion as the real sun overhead.
By the time the travelers had walked their way to Jupiter, looking back, the ‘Sun’ was barely visible.
Perhaps the most astonishing fact that Williams revealed was this: The nearest star on his scale would be about the same distance as from Corydon to Hawaii, while the edge of our solar system would fall somewhere around Los Angeles.
‘I think even the adults that took part were impressed with the presentation, and if we can get just one child to take an interest in astronomy, then we’ve done our job,’ Williams said.
Williams said the YMCA Astronomy Club will present a number of events, including ‘Lost in Space’ week at Y Summer Camp, ‘star party’ outdoor observing sessions with telescopes, and ‘the premiere astronomical event of the year,’ the ‘Mars Encounter’ in late August.
‘The August Mars event will be our nearest encounter with Mars since the days of the Roman Empire’ he said. ‘Professional and amateur astronomers will be watching for Martian dust storms and hoping to catch changes in the south polar ice cap’ of the Red Planet.
For more information on the astronomy club, call the Y office at 734-0770 or contact Williams via e-mail at: [email protected]