Travelling a virtual solar system

I have travelled through the solar system – virtually!

The AAT Dome at Siding Spring Observatory represents the sun in what is advertised as the "World's Largest virtual Solar System Drive".

Pluto (yes, it is still included) is nearly 200kms (120 miles) away, on 5 different "solar" routes to Coonabarabran, in a virtual solar system which is 38 million times smaller than outer space. (Pluto exists in Dubbo, Gulgong, Merriwa, Tamworth & Moree even though the General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union reclassified it in 2006)


Three dimensional planet models, with factoids, are attached to billboard signs beside the road. The sun is over 1.39 million kilometres wide but, if it were the size of the 37 metre AAT Dome, Pluto would be nearly 200 kms away and be the size of a billiard ball.

So …  if you are travelling in your car at 100km/hr (60mph) you would be "virtually" hurtling through space at a million kilometres per second. (or 621,371 miles per second).

Some of these country roads can be a bit tedious to travel along but this adds something to watch for – though to be honest I missed a few planets  – but then I was travelling faster than those 100km/hr – more than 3 times faster than the speed of light!  

Back to Sydney for me!

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12 responses

  1. Shame on you, exceeding the universe's speed limit — the speed of light! Shame! Next thing you tell us you'll have violated the law of gravity. Tsk, tsk! — JG

  2. Very cool! I used to take my students on a virtual tour of the solar system. When I taught ninth grade I was in a building with a very long hall and could run the solar system down its length, but most of planets were the teeniest of little dots on pieces of paper. When I taught at an alternative high school we were in a very small building but had the advantage of being able to go on walking field trips whenever I liked without having to get special permission. I was then able to set up a solar system that was a mile long. We could actually see every planet!For the tour you went on, rather than consider the removal of Pluto they should add the other dwarf planets and update the descriptions.

  3. Huh…. I always thought Jupiter was bigger than that, and I don't remember it looking so flat and being held aloft by sign posts. Nice they have labeled Mars as well. That way no one will think it is a non planet and remove it's status like they did to poor old Pluto! It is oh so shiny too! Awesome! No wonder NASA wants to go there.

  4. I remember long tedius trips as a child where my parents tried to come up with "games" to keep us occupied. It would have been so cool to have had something like this to watch out for.

  5. What you did was fabulous and must have made it much more interesting for your pupils. I don't remember any teacher doing that – but then we had the Parkes radio telescope just "down the road" to visit a couple of times a year on excursions (have you seen "The Dish" movie? – my home town is less than 2 hours from Parkes).
    There are certainly enough roads to add the other dwarf "planets" – especially travelling to the west.

  6. They are the names of towns in NSW. Dubbo is called a 'city" because it has more than 60,000 population. Not sure about "Tamworth" but the others are aboriginal names.

  7. My partner Dave is very jealous as a budding amateur astronomer. He is in the middle of a physics degree and has just finished the first astronomy classes from the open university as well as doing his Masters at Aberdeen Uni in E-Science. He has read about this observatory in The Sky at Night and is jealous of all the clear skies you get there. Although we live out in the country by the sea we get lots of rain and it is light until midnight in the summer!

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