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History of the Sagan Planet Walk

The Sagan Planet Walk, a scale model of the Solar System, is named in memory of Carl Sagan—a respected scientist, inspired and tireless advocate for science, valued advisor to the Sciencenter, and member of the Ithaca community for nearly 30 years. The Sagan Planet Walk seeks to inspire wonder about the immense scale of the cosmos and our precious and fragile relationship with it.

In 1995, volunteers from the Sciencenter conceived the idea to build an outdoor model of the Solar System. A few moments with a map and calculator confirmed that the model, at 1 to 5-billion scale, would just exactly fit in the 1,200-meter distance between the Ithaca Commons and the Sciencenter.

Artist Erin Caruth designed the planet stations as monoliths, or standing stones, to recall the astronomical monuments of earlier civilizations. Reminiscent of ancient hieroglyphics, curious images grace the Sun station and challenge viewers to make connections between the images and human activities that are related to astronomical cycles. Interpretive plaques feature high-resolution images of the planets from NASA, and each station has a scale model that contrasts the size of the respective planet relative to the Sun. Retired engineer Bob Orrange coordinated the construction of the Sagan Planet Walk. Yervant Terzian and Jim Bell of Cornell's Astronomy Department served as technical advisors.

The Sciencenter added a cell phone audio tour narrated by Bill Nye, The Science Guy, in 2006 and the Asteroid station, featuring a touchable, 40-kg meteorite, in 2009. The guidebook to the exhibit, Passport to the Solar System, was updated and re-published in 2009.

The Sciencenter seeks to extend the Sagan Planet Walk by installing a station representing Alpha Centauri, the star nearest to the Sun, on the island of Hawaii.

If you are interested in helping with this project, which will result in the largest permanent exhibition in the world, please contact Charlie Trautmann, executive director, at 607.272.0600, ext. 26, or cTrautmann@sciencenter.org.

Rev 8-14-09 - CHT