Has thou dreamt of exploring our planetary neighbors in an overly-precise fashion, only to shy away from actually leaving behind the safety blanket of Earth’s gravitational field? Anchorage, Alaska has the perfect model solar system to fill the void in your heart, O semi-intrepid explorer!
In the fall of 2003, Anchorage’s rotary club teamed with high school student and astronomy enthusiast Eli Menaker to present the municipality with a permanent planet walk. Approval from the Parks and Recreation Department came down in 2004, and allowed the installation of a sun and nine precisely spaced “planets” throughout the region. Menaker specifically designed his model solar system to be traversed on foot, at a scale to which “a leisurely walking pace mimics the speed of light.” In suitably precise fashion, Menaker gave his creation a straightforward name: the Anchorage Light Speed Planet Walk. Each stop on this space tour features an informational sign teeming with fun facts about its particular planet, all written and researched by Menaker himself.
But how does it work? If we accept that it takes sunlight eight minutes to reach our eyes here on Earth — which we should, because science — then those traversing this particular model solar system will delight to find that walking from the Sun to Earth takes approximately eight minutes. To be clear: at no point does the light speed scale falter, which means that everyone’s favorite former-planet, Pluto, is marooned five-and-a-half hours away at the Kincaid Chalet. After passing the asteroid belt, all the planets are found in parks and wilderness areas, positioned alongside easily accessible walking trails.
Each celestial body represented can be found as follows (all times listed in average walking speed): The Sun - 5th and G; Mercury - 5th and H; Venus - 5th and I; Earth - 5th and KMars - 5th and (Elderberry Park); Jupiter - Westchester lagoon (45 minutes from the Sun); Saturn - Lyn Ary Park (1 hour and 20 minutes from the Sun); Uranus - Point Woronzof Hill (2 hours 40 minutes from the Sun); Neptune - Along the Coastal Trail (4 hours 15 minutes from the Sun); Pluto - Kincaid Chalet (5 hours and 30 minutes from the Sun).
What results for those who follow the Light Speed Planet Walk all the way to its conclusion is not only an education in Earth’s planetary neighbors, but also a better understanding of the bounty of nature surrounding us at every turn, close to home.