Wednesday, 3 October 2007
On a clear day ...
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.