Scale model solar system at U of T Scarborough could soon be one of world’s largest

Solar Walk display at the University of Toronto Scarborough.
The Solar Walk, a scale model solar system that spans the campus at the University of Toronto Scarborough, will become one of the largest scale model solar systems of its kind in the world once a final marker is placed in Nunavut. (Photo by Ken Jones)

Alexa Battler

When complete, a new campus-wide scale model solar system at U of T Scarborough may end up being one of the largest of its kind in the world.

The Solar Walk is a new model solar system installation on campus, a permanent feature created through the U of T Scarborough Canada 150 Fund and proposed by Assistant Professor Hanno Rein.

“There are already many astronomy-related events going on regularly downtown,” Rein says. “Scarborough has some catching up to do. I hope U of T Scarborough can fill that gap.”

Ten planet markers have been placed throughout the campus at the exact location of each celestial body on July 1, 1867 – the day of Canada’s confederation. The markers include descriptions of each, and details their positions in the solar system.

In the model, the solar system has been scaled down by a factor of one to 10 billion (10,000 kilometres in real life becomes one milimetre in the model). To get a sense of the massive space between these planets, the sun is at the heart of the campus behind the Science Wing, while Neptune is by the Miller-Lash House, and Pluto by the UTSC Tennis Centre in The Valley.

“I find it very exciting to really get a sense of scale,” Rein says. “In the scale of the Solar Walk, you have to walk several kilometres to reach them all.”

Voyagers will soon have to travel a bit farther to visit every part of the model. In the coming weeks, a final marker representing Proxima Centauri b, the closest planet to the Milky Way, will be sent to a research station called Eureka in Nunavut. Rein says with this addition, the model will span 4,000 kilometres. He says this should make it the largest scale model solar system of its kind in the world.

The Solar Walk was launched during the Canada Day long weekend, with guided tours of the model and UTSC Observatory. More than 600 people attended the event. It also included lectures and presentations by astrophysicists at the Centre for Planetary Science (CPS).

Rein says one important the motivation behind the project was to not only get people to come to campus, but to get the community excited about some of the work being done at the CPS.

“It’s a good opportunity to get people active while also learning about astronomy,” he says.