Wednesday, 3 October 2007

On a clear day ...

Yaminbah Rest Area, Newell Hwy


Had I known about the World's Largest Solar System Drive before I embarked on my journey to Far North Queensland, I would have certainly built it into my itinerary. After all, how often do you get to drive past a scale representation of the Solar System?

The Anglo-Australian Observatory at Siding Spring in the Warrumbungles represents the Sun. Mercury, Venus and Earth are spread out along Observatory Road. According to Warrumbungle Shire Council, the project's developer, you can get from the Sun to Mars in five minutes (5.5 km) and from there to Jupiter in another fifteen (16.5 km). After that, times and distances depend on the route — there are three alternatives for the Jupiter to Saturn leg and five for Saturn to Pluto (the planetary pretender). Terrestrial geography and patterns of settlement being what they are, you can reach the outer limits rather more quickly if you head in certain directions rather than others. Gulgong's Pluto is only 157 km from the Siding Spring Sun, whereas Merriwa's Pluto is 205 km from it.


According to the Drive's website, it was set up "to provide a unique opportunity for tourists and students to experience first hand the vastness of our Solar System and develop an interest in astronomy and science." This area, is after all, packed with radio and optical telescopes, including Parkes, Narrabri and Mopra.

The drive has a secondary purpose in providing incentives for drivers to take breaks on long journeys. There's more than a touch of Futurama about this: "visitors are encouraged to stop at each planet in a safe manner."

Next time I head north, I'm going to check them all out. Safely, of course.

4 comments:

Sherrie said...

On a clear day you can see Uranus? Who knew? And does the Pluto marker keep appearing and disappearing as its status as a planet is disputed? There's just too, too much to discover around here!

Lyn Weir said...

The abc classic fm interview this morning was with Astronomer in Charge at the Anglo-Australian Telescope at Siding Springs.
My son was fortunate enough to do work experience at the siding Springs Observatory site - and we got to tag along. Wonderful area!!

Snail said...

Sherrie, I will check the status of that wannabe Pluto when I next head north. I might be busy, though, because there are currently five Plutos. (Or should that be Pluti?) Of course, by the time I get back to the area, they might have all been de-billboarded and shoved in a cupboard.

Lyn, that sounds like it must have been great fun for you and your son. I stopped at the Parkes radio telescope when I drove up the Newell Hwy, but didn't have time to check out all the other places. Next time ...

AYDIN Ă–RSTAN said...

Are you allowed to feed the creatures you may encounter at each planet?