Planetary Path

Physics faculty and students design a solar system visualization using Middle Path for scale.

By David Hoyt '14
Kenyon ROAR

Members of Kenyon’s Radio and Optical Astronomy Research (ROAR) group pose with a scale model of Saturn displayed outside Ransom Hall. The distance between Old Kenyon and Ransom represents the 913 million miles between the Sun and Saturn, using a scale of 0.84 million miles per foot. To make them more visible and detailed, the size of the planet models is exaggerated by a factor of 27 compared to this scale. Photo by Dannie Lane ’22

Everyone knows Middle Path is less than one mile long, but what if it were scaled up to 2.8 billion miles? That’s what a group of physics faculty and students envisioned while designing a solar system visualization project for Kenyon’s Radio and Optical Astronomy Research (ROAR) group. 

Using Old Kenyon as the Sun, eight scale models of planets were stationed at appropriate points along Middle Path, with Neptune passing by Bexley Hall as part of its orbit. (To make the planets more visible, the models were built on a different scale, exaggerating their size by a factor of 27 relative to the distances between them.)

“Visualizing the vastly different scales of our solar system is often hard to do without a tangible reference,” said Associate Professor of Physics Madeline Wade, who undertook the project with support from a National Science Foundation grant. “This exhibit gives folks that tangible reference. We have also included information about the individual planets on the signs, so viewers can also learn about some of the differences and neat facts about the planets.”