By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Walking tour places solar system in perspective
Caroline Mathes, 5, stands next to one of the planet plaques located throughout the 2-mile Solar System Walking Tour. The tour starts on the Gainesville Square and runs through Rock Creek, Ivey Terrace, Wilshire Trails and Longwood Park. - photo by CHARLES PHELPS

Some Gainesville residents took part Saturday morning in what has become a once-a-month expedition many may not know about: the Solar System Walking Tour.

If you’ve run through Rock Creek, Ivey Terrace, Wilshire Trails or Longwood Park, then you might have seen the plaques that depict information about the planets from our solar system.

But maybe you asked: Why is it in the park or on the square? Actually, it is a part of the North Georgia Astronomers’ true-scale model of the solar system, and their walking tour.

Frank Lock, a retired chemistry, physics and astronomy teacher of 35 years, guided those who attended the tour on Saturday.

“It’s unique,” he said about the tour. “It’s a good opportunity to tell people about the space program. ... Not just the United States (program), but the international space program.”

Lock moved to Gainesville from Florida in October 2009. He said he saw the sun model, located on the square and the start of the tour, within the first month of living in Gainesville.

Afterward, he said he was able to gather more information about the sun model, then he discovered information on the tour, and walked it for himself.

On the tour, Lock delved into information on all the planets, from when they were first discovered by human eyes, to when an instrument, like a space shuttle or satellite, first passed by the planet to take an picture of it for accuracy. He also threw in his own personal stories of living in Florida and being able to see different space shuttles and satellites launch into space.

He also said that tour is what is called “citizen science.” When it comes to teaching people about the solar system, citizen science is a great way to illustrate it, he said, because people are normally used to seeing the solar system from the view of planets orbiting the sun.

But with the walking tour, Lock said it better accurately illustrates how far apart planets are from the sun, as well as from one another. Plus, the tour includes the planets’ moons and the asteroid belt to help give more of an idea of where things are located.

Lock said he became one of the main tour guides for the walking tour after attending a meeting last November. He said the North Georgia Astronomers were looking for new people to help lead the tours.

So he volunteered, and said he has enjoyed it since. Tours are offered once a month throughout the summer.
The walking tour spreads over 2 miles, and starts on the corner of Bradford and Spring Street, located on the square. From there, the tour gets out of the square and crosses Academy Street, where it winds through Rock Creek, Ivey Terrace, Wilshire Trails Park, before ending in Longwood Park.

For more information about the walking tour and the history of how it started, visit

Regional events