diamond geezer

 Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Solar System is big, really big. And that's why, in several locations around the world, people have gone to a lot of effort to build a scale model across the landscape to show just how big the Solar System is. They've picked somewhere to place the Sun, selected an appropriate scale, calculated where all the planets go, then stuck some sort of markers in the ground to represent everything.

There's a scale model along 40 miles of coastal road in Maine, USA. There's a huge scale model covering the length of Sweden. There's the Spaced Out scale model across the whole of Britain. There's a bikeable scale model outside York. There's a really lovely model in the small town of Otford, north Kent (I've been). But there isn't a proper outdoor scale model of the solar system in London. In 2010 an artist called Louise O'Connor gave some shopkeepers along the Kingsland Road a series of balls to represent the Sun and planets, starting with a 75cm gold yoga ball in Afro World, but alas her project has now ended. Which means the capital is ripe for a fresh attempt to represent the solar system, thereby creating a valuable resource for learning and enlightenment. The Greater London Solar System. Shall we have a go?

[Google map]

The Sun (Trafalgar Square): There are many places in London you could place the centre of a solar system model. I toyed with the Royal Greenwich Observatory, except too many of the inner planets ended up inside Greenwich Park near to close to nothing particularly exciting. So I went for the traditional centre of London instead, the statue of King Charles I at Charing Cross. If my solar system idea takes off, maybe we could replace the statue with a glowing red ball, perhaps sponsored by The Sun newspaper... or maybe not.

I'm scaling this model by placing Neptune on the edge of London. That's 15 miles on the ground to represent nearly 3 billion miles in space. That's quite some squish.

Mercury (375 yards, St James's Park): With Neptune on this scale you might expect Mercury to be located really really close to the Sun - perhaps attached to the nearest traffic light or at the foot of Nelson's Column. Not so. Being 36 million miles from the Sun equates to just under 400 yards, which enables Mercury to orbit some distance from Trafalgar Square. Under Admiralty Arch and along to the closest corner of St James's Park, that's where Mercury should go.
Venus (700 yards, Covent Garden): This is a good place to plonk Venus. The eastern corner of Covent Garden Market, on the forecourt just outside the London Transport Museum. I think they'd approve of a tourist-friendly orb adjacent to their front door, I really do.
Earth (½ mile, South Bank, Waterloo Bridge): The Earth is the most crucial planet in the entire model because it defines the scale of the piece to the average inhabitant. So I've looked all around a circle with a half mile radius from Trafalgar Square, and the best location I can find is on the South Bank under Waterloo Bridge by the second hand book sellers. A watery globe on the banks of the Thames - it seems appropriate.
Mars (¾ mile, Green Park): A red planet in a green park, that's not ideal. But there's plenty of space to locate the Martian globe here, up at the western end close to (but not quite as far as) Hyde Park Corner. Alternatively Mars could be positioned outside the British Museum, and perhaps that might be more appropriate.

There's a big jump here, courtesy of the asteroid belt, which could be marked by appropriating St Paul's Cathedral or the Elephant & Castle roundabout.

Jupiter (2.6 miles, Camberwell Green): We'll give the largest of the planets to the London borough of Southwark, to the patch of grass by the crossroads where kids play, dogs squat and beer drinkers congregate.
Saturn (4.8 miles, Mudchute City Farm): Saturn can go on this unlikely patch of greenspace on the Isle of Dogs, south of Canary Wharf, close to the grazing sheep and the alpacas. That'll look well smart.
Uranus (9.5 miles, Cockfosters): Apologies, but I've located the planet with the schoolboy-giggly name at the tube station with a similar reputation. If that doesn't attract the crowds, at least it'll encourage graffiti.
Neptune (15 miles, Heathrow Terminal 5): The outermost planet appears on the far western edge of the capital, in the closest thing London has to a spaceport. Because that's how big the Solar System is at a scale of approximately 200 million to one... from Heathrow to Charing Cross, damned huge.

Pluto (20 miles, Fen Lane, North Ockendon): And yes I know it's no longer a planet, but it would seem right to add a Pluto to this model. Even better, at its average distance from the Sun it just fits inside the Greater London boundary, beyond the M25 down a quiet country lane at the far end of a hedgerow. I've been, if you've ever wondered where the very easternmost corner of the capital is. That's Pluto, that is.

My Greater London Solar System is nothing special. Anyone can pick a centre, a scale and a series of arbitrary orbital locations to determine an imaginary experiment such as this. But it's been fun to devise, and hopefully it's thought-provoking to consider. Now all I can hope is that someone out there might have the money (and the balls) to make it real.

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