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Planets on solar system walk, though they sometimes go missing, are there
Caroline Mathes, 5, stands next to the Uranus plaque on the 2-mile Solar System Walking Tour held June 1 in Gainesville. - photo by CHARLES PHELPS

If you’ve been wondering about something in your community, Ask The Times is your place to get answers. The following questions were submitted by readers and answered through the efforts of our news staff.

Who controls the planet walk, and are they aware all but two planets have been removed?

The North Georgia Astronomers group began the project in 1998 to create a scale model of the solar system.

“There was a total solar eclipse down in Aruba, but we could see a partial eclipse from Gainesville, so we set up telescopes on the square and a couple of classes came over from Brenau Academy, which was the high school over there at the time,” said Robert Webb, president of the astronomers group. “We kind of realized people didn’t have a good concept of how big the moon is versus the sun and the distances and everything.”

So the group proposed to build the model, got the OK from the appropriate government bodies and began raising funds. The earth and moon monuments were placed at the corner of Main and Washington streets in Gainesville on Dec. 31, 1999.

Other markers were placed as money was raised, some coming from small donations and most coming from local schools and their partners.

The sun was placed February 2001 at the corner of Spring and Bradford streets. The marker includes a 27.5-inch stainless steel globe.

The asteroid belt is also included in the walk, with the asteroid Ceres represented with a globe less than an inch in diameter.

The final markers were set in spring 2001.

Webb said none of the planets are currently missing, but many are very tiny and can be hard to spot. They’re located just above the planet’s name on the plaque.

He said some planets do disappear occasionally, but the club works to replace them as soon as possible.
“It only takes one person to walk through, and there they go,” he said.

The group offers guided tours of the model about once a month and members check to be sure all the planets are there.

The planets are made from a variety of materials, with most represented with ball bearings, Webb said.

Uranus and Neptune are glass marbles. The Earth is a blue stone, Mars is a pink stone and Venus is a simulated pearl, he said.

A couple actually have to be created, which Webb does himself.

“Jupiter is actually a wooden ball 2¾ inches, and then you gotta sand one side off and paint the stripes and the Great Red Spot on it, put a couple of layers of varnish on it,” he said. “And then Saturn is the other one we gotta make. And it’s polyester resin, and it’s cast and then the rings are made with polycarbonate — that bulletproof glass, it’s like Plexiglas, except it won’t shatter.”

The walking tour spreads over 2 miles, starting on the corner of Bradford and Spring streets, located on the square. From there, the tour leaves the square and crosses Academy Street, where it winds through Rock Creek, Ivey Terrace and Wilshire Trails parks, before ending in Longwood Park.

One mile on the planet walk equals 2 billion miles in space, and the distance from the sun to Pluto is 3.6 billion miles.

Webb said it’s the only accurate scale model in the Southeast.

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