PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — For the past ten years, visitors to the area have been stopping along U.S. Route 1 to have their pictures taken next to an out-of-this-world project that was several years in the making — the University of Maine at Presque Isle’s Maine Solar System Model.
During the celebration of the 10th anniversary of its creation on Friday, UMPI announced that it will be expanding the model across the border into Canada.
The announcement means that the display, which already is the world’s largest solar system model in this hemisphere, also will become the very first international model on record.
The Maine Solar System Model is maintained by UMPI’s Northern Maine Museum of Science and was formally dedicated on June 14, 2003, after four years of construction. In 1998, high school students from throughout Aroostook County helped the museum build models of the planets.
Built on a scale of one mile equal to 93 million miles (the distance from the Earth to the sun, also known as an astronomical unit), each of the planet replicas is built to scale and spaced alongside U.S. Route 1 at appropriate distances. Most of the model planets are mounted outdoors on poles. The system stretches from Topsfield to Presque Isle and now includes the sun, nine planets, seven moons and three dwarf planets. The Sun is located inside Folsom-Pullen Hall at UMPI.
The proposal calls for expanding the solar system model north into New Brunswick and Quebec, as well as east and west of Route 1. The expansion is being done to coincide with the 2014 World Acadian Congress, with two dwarf planets or Kuiper belt objects each in the Acadian areas of Maine, New Brunswick and Quebec. The World Acadian Congress will be staged in northern Maine, northwestern New Brunswick and the Temiscouata region of Quebec from Aug. 8 to 24, 2014. This will be the first time in the event’s history that it will span two countries, and in the past has brought more than 50,000 visitors to host regions.
The Kuiper belt is an elliptical plane in space similar to an asteroid belt that holds bodies more than 62 miles in diameter, according to space.com. The objects travel around the sun within this belt, along with trillions of smaller objects. The belt also contains several dwarf planets.
The college also plans to place a Kuiper belt object both east and west of Houlton, for eight additions altogether. Once complete, the newly expanded installation would be named the “International Solar System Model.”
Linda Schott, president of UMPI, said on Friday that everyone at the college is looking forward to the project.
“We are very excited about the prospect of expanding this model into Canada and creating the world’s first International Solar System Model,” Schott said.
Dr. Kevin McCartney, director of the Northern Maine Museum of Science and coordinator of the solar system model, noted that this is not the first time that model has been altered. In 2006, the International Astronomical Union decided Pluto was no longer a planet but rather a “dwarf planet.”
That altered its status in the model. In 2008, the museum decided to keep Pluto’s original location inside the Tourist Information Center in Houlton, but they also added a new model of the dwarf planet Pluto next to the sign at the Southern Aroostook Agricultural Museum in Littleton.
McCartney said most of the Kuiper belt objects to be included in the model are “dwarf planet wannabes.”
The present plan is for the three new objects in northern Maine — in the village of Lille near Madawaska, and the Katahdin High School in Stacyville — to be mounted on posts that would be built at Northern Maine Community College. The five Canadian models all would be located indoors with wall-mounted displays. The proposed Acadian locations are at: ASTER, the astronomical observatory in St. Louis-du-Ha!-Ha!, Quebec; Le Jardin de l’Ecluse in Degelis, Quebec; New Brunswick Botanical Gardens in Saint-Jacques, New Brunswick; the municipal library in Saint-Francois-de-Madawaska, New Brunswick, and a fifth location yet to be determined.
Officials hope to have displays in place in time for the World Acadian Congress.
Don Levesque, vice president of the Maine regional coordinating committee of the World Acadian Congress, said that the “scope of this project perfectly symbolizes the spirit and nature” of the 2014 event and added that it was a great addition to the other events that they were planning.
Planners of the planet expansion project hope to have a new brochure about the dwarf planets and Kuiper belt objects that would be printed in English and French and handed out at the World Acadian Congress once funding is found.