The Metro Atlanta Solar System

This new Agnes Scott initiative is very cool.  So cool, it got some love on the New York Times’ Tierney Lab blog!

The Metro Atlanta Solar System is centered at the Bradley Observatory, where the Sun is represented by a circular granite plaza about 30 feet wide. From there it’s almost half a mile to the 3-inch model of Earth (at the Decatur Public Library), nearly 12 miles to Uranus (at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport) and more than 18 miles to Neptune (at Sweetwater Creek State Park in Lithia Springs, Ga.)

According to the project’s website, at each of the designated planet locations, pseudo-space travelers will find two large-format panels, which show the location of each planet and a scaled image of that location’s planet.

Here’s the full list of locations for those uneasy with wandering aimlessly in space.

  • Sun –  Bradley Observatory
  • Mercury – Alston Campus Center, Agnes Scott College
  • Venus – Decatur High School
  • Mars – Columbia Theological Seminary
  • Jupiter – Emory University-Physics Building
  • Saturn –  Georgia Tech-Physics Building
  • Uranus – Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport
  • Neptune – Sweetwater Creek State Park

Thanks to Emily for forwarding the NY Times link!

22 thoughts on “The Metro Atlanta Solar System”


    1. Maybe the folks at Agnes Scott can come up with a location for Pluto just for Pluto-advocates such as yourself, Scott.

      It’s the least they can do, since the college is partially named after you.

      1. See if you can calculate a good location for pluto in the Metro Atlanta Solar System. 1 kilometer is 1 Astronomical Unit in the scale used.

        1. Geez Chris, you could have at least given me the astronomical units. That whole process required at least 3 Google searches! 🙂

          OK everyone, here are our Pluto options, based on the fact that Pluto is 39.52 astronomical units from the Sun.

          Gwinnett County Airport
          Collins Hill, Olde Atlanta, or Laurel Springs Golf Course
          Kennesaw State University
          Cobb County Airport
          Marietta Country Club
          Taylor Farm Park
          Stout Park
          Douglasville
          Palmetto
          Atlanta Motor Speedway
          Georgia National Golf Club
          Loganville

          Take your time. This is probably the biggest decision you’ll make all week.

  1. I noticed this at the library a few weeks ago – it’s similar to a project in Boston (although there, the planets are represented by actual statues rather than just pictures). Very cool and lots of fun!

  2. That’s takes a little dimensional thinking where Venus is Decatur High School, Earth at the Library and you jump back over to Mars at Columbia Theological Seminary before heading on to Jupiter at Emory. Oh well, it has my head spinning anyway.

    …and meanwhile, on the Planet Pluto thing; Pluto is still a planet! The up-in-arms defenders of Pluto’s status (and I grok an underdog) have missed their greatest defense. A dwarf planet is still a planet. 100%. The adjective of ‘dwarf’ is no different than ‘huge’ for Jupiter or ‘red’ for Mars. Nouns are a progressive bunch and work nicely with the diversity of adjectives. We should be so lucky.

      1. That’s an oops! Being fixed by our web person tomorrow. Earth is at the Decatur Public Library (as someone already noticed above).

  3. The exhibit was in the Atlanta airport tunnel for awhile. I discovered it by accident by opting to walk from the security screening to Concourse C. Those riding the train would never see it. LOTS of really cool photographs and night imagery of the earth too.

  4. Now I understand why I’m so friggin’ hot all the time. I live between Mercury and Mars! Way too close to the sun.

  5. Please add Pluto back to the planet list, add a site for Pluto, and do not blindly follow the controversial IAU demotion. Pluto is still a planet. Only four percent of the IAU voted on the controversial demotion, and most are not planetary scientists. Their decision was immediately opposed in a formal petition by hundreds of professional astronomers led by Dr. Alan Stern, Principal Investigator of NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto. One reason the IAU definition makes no sense is it says dwarf planets are not planets at all! That is like saying a grizzly bear is not a bear, and it is inconsistent with the use of the term “dwarf” in astronomy, where dwarf stars are still stars, and dwarf galaxies are still galaxies. Also, the IAU definition classifies objects solely by where they are while ignoring what they are. If Earth were in Pluto’s orbit, according to the IAU definition, it would not be a planet either. A definition that takes the same object and makes it a planet in one location and not a planet in another is essentially useless. Pluto is a planet because it is spherical, meaning it is large enough to be pulled into a round shape by its own gravity–a state known as hydrostatic equilibrium and characteristic of planets, not of shapeless asteroids held together by chemical bonds. These reasons are why many astronomers, lay people, and educators are either ignoring the demotion entirely or working to get it overturned.

    1. But isn’t Pluto just the nearest object in the Kuiper Belt? And isn’t the demotion just a consequence of a more extensive knowledge of the outer Solar System?

      From what I understand, the designation ‘dwarf planet’ just means another classification of planets–like a grizzly is another type of bear: as in there are gas planets, solid planets, and smaller, misplaced, dwarf planets. Also, if the Earth was in Pluto’s orbit (which is also an odd characteristic of the dwarf planet in that it crosses Neptune’s) wouldn’t they just have to adjust the size included in the definition of a dwarf planet? (But of course, we wouldn’t be here to define anything if Earth was way out there…)

      How on earth did the demotion get passed if only four percent of the IAU voted for it? What was the point of even having a vote?

      1. I know that there are lots of Pluto defenders out there. As an astronomer (who didn’t participate in the vote btw), I have to say that I agree with the decision. I saw it as creating another subclass of planets (dwarf planets), and my guess it that in the coming decades, with better telescopes, we will discover many Pluto-sized (or larger) objects in the outer reaches of our solar system-as we have already started to do.

        For those you are confused by the back and forth placement of planets, you can notice in the map of the Metro Atlanta Solar System that the planets are located along their orbits. My colleague at Emory mused that it would be interesting to determine when the planets have been in these exact relative locations. Tough problem!

  6. And not only should we put Pluto in, but also Eris, which is slightly larger than Pluto.

    Eris’ median distance from the Sun is 67.67 astronomical units, so using the one kilometer = one AU formula, I guess you can put Eris at Lumite, Inc. at 2100 Atlanta Road in Gainesville. There are other places 67.67 kilometers from Bradley Observatory, but that’s the first notable location I’ve found.

  7. Pluto is not just the “nearest object in the Kuiper Belt,” and its demotion resulted from one interpretation of more extensive knowledge of the outer solar system. The overwhelming majority of Kuiper Belt Objects are not large enough to be in hydrostatic equilibrium, that is, rounded by their own gravity. This is how Pluto, Haumea, Makemake, and Eris differ from the majority of Kuiper Belt Objects. Objects in hydrostatic equilibrium are often geologically differentiated into core, mantle, and crust, just like Earth, and have weather and geological processes that smaller, non-spherical bodies do not have. The new knowledge about the outer solar system is that these objects exist; it does not dictate that Pluto and these objects aren’t planets. That is an interpretaition favored by dynamicists, a class of astronomers who study how objects interact with and effect one another. A different interpretation, the one Stern and many planetary scientists support, is that the new knowledge tells us we have a third class of planets in addition to terrestrials and gas giants–the dwarf planets.

    A big problem is that the IAU definition specifically states that dwarf planets are NOT planets. Not only does this make no linguistic sense; it also goes against the use of the term “dwarf” in astronomy, where dwarf stars are still stars and dwarf galaxies are still galaxies. If this one provision were amended to establish dwarf planets as a subclass of planets, much of the controversy would dissipate.

    The demotion passed with only four percent of the IAU voting because the IAU has archaic policies that don’t allow any absentee voting. The vote was held on the last day of a two-week conference, when most attendees had already left. Also, the resolution was put on the floor in violation of the IAU’s own bylaws, which require resolutions first be vetted by the appropriate committees before being placed on the floor of the General Assembly for a vote. The IAU’s committee had recommended a different resolution that included Ceres, Eris, Charon, and Pluto as planets. Members who left early expected that resolution to be on the floor and had no idea that a small group would hijack the process and substitute it with a different resolution. The IAU has about 10,000 members worldwide. About 2,500 attended the start of the 2006 General Assembly. By the time of the vote, only 424 remained, and this is the number of people who took part in the vote.

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