Trail sports solar system sculptures

April 20, 2017

4-14-17 Rail Trail Sculptures taPlanets-4slim

The Pere Marquette Rail Trail has a new attraction. It is a sculptural representation of our solar system. As you bike from downtown Coleman east to North Bradley, you will pass by stainless steel sculptures created and built by Bob Mass of Midland which represent the sun, moon and our planets in a 600 million to one scale.

The opening ceremony for the new sculptures, sponsored by the Friends of the Pere Marquette Rail Trail will take place at the bright yellow sun which is 7.5 feet wide and stands 12 feet tall. It is located on the trailhead in Coleman on Third Street. Festivities begin at 10:00 AM and run until noon on Saturday May 20. There will be a ribbon cutting ceremony, speakers, refreshments and several ways to view the planets along the trail.

The obvious way is to bring your bike to the Coleman trailhead and ride the 5.6 miles to North Bradley. Thanks to Ray’s Bike Shop there will be a multi passenger surrey bike that attendees can ride. There will also be a electric vehicle to transport seniors and handicapped individuals down the trail provided by Midland County Parks and Recreation Commission. You are also invited to walk or roller blade. The sculptures, funded by the Midland Area Community Foundation and several local donors offer an opportunity to see how big the planets are in relation to each other as well as to our sun and moon.

Attending the opening is a wonderful way to spend an educational Saturday morning outdoors. If you can’t make it on May 20, plan to take the ride anytime. Parking is available at both the Coleman and North Bradley trail heads along with restroom facilities. See you on the trail.

Nearly two years ago Bob Mass had a dream of an outdoor model solar system in the Midland area. Now with a lot of help, refinement, and long hours of work it has been built in western Midland County.

We designed our own Solar System sculptures based on astronomy and were inspired by models around the world especially the one we later visited in Eugene Oregon. The design dilemma in making an accurate model of the solar system is the great differences in the sizes and the real estate requirements. Using Mercury and Pluto sculptures at about the size of this typeface results in a Sun sculpture that will just fit in your living room. A straight line arrangement was needed so all planets can be easily traversed. We opted for the largest Sun at 7.5 feet (2.3 meters) in diameter and for placing the structures along a 5.6 mile stretch of the rail trail. Ours is the largest fully spherical sun sculpture found so far on the internet.

The Sun Sculpture is a sphere that is 7.5 feet in diameter which calculates to be a scale down ratio of 600,000,000 to one from the astronomical values. The Sun sculpture is a welded up sphere of steel on a 4 foot stem that is painted bright yellow. The diameters of the planets were held to this same ratio. Purchased hollow stainless steel spheres were used to construct the four larger gaseous planets. Rings that were water-jet cut from plates were welded to Saturn and to Uranus.

The small rocky planets and the Moon were machined from half inch and one inch rods of solid stainless steel. Jupiter is a very visible 10 inch sphere; Saturn is a bit smaller at 8 inches but an impressive 18 inches with its rings. A 3.5 inch sphere was used for Uranus but it grows to 6.75 inches with its vertical rings. Neptune is 3 inches in diameter. The Earth and Venus are 7/8 inch spheres on slim stems. Mars at 0.44”, Mercury at 0.32”, Moon at 0.23”, and the dwarf planet Pluto at a mere 0.15”.

After a thorough search within Midland County, the segment of the Pere Marquette Rail trail between Coleman and North Bradley was chosen. We are lucky that the Pere Marquette Rail Road surveyors marked a perfectly straight segment on their way to Clare. The trail has a gentle slope of 15 feet per mile and has no hills. With a telescope on a very clear day you can see the Sun while on the trail near Pluto.

Spacing of the planets along the trail was held to the same ratio as the measured astronomical distances. For example, the 93 million mile distance from us to the sun becomes 848 feet between the Earth and Sun sculptures. The first four planets are within an easy fifth of a mile walk of the Sun in downtown Coleman. Numerous mile roads offer shorter hikes to the outer planets. Distances from the Sun are 0.8 miles to Jupiter, 1.5 miles to Saturn, 3.1 miles to Uranus, 4.8 miles to Neptune and 5.6 miles to Pluto.

Large pedestals make the smaller planets easier to spot. They are 3 feet tall and are made from four inch square stainless steel tubing. Labels attached to each give the Astronomical symbol, the English name, and a QR Code pointing to a NASA web site.

Information signs are located at each end of the solar system. Included are location information, some astronomical information, Copernicus’s model of the solar system, a photo of the 1980 lineup of the Sun and visible planets, and a map of the trail.

The Midland Area Community Foundation along with Al Pruss and Jim Melek provided funds. Midland County Parks and Recreation Department and Commission became the full partner and now owner. The Gladwin Tank Manufacturing made the Sun sculpture. Henry Hellmann coauthored the information sign content, web site content and QR Codes.

Robert O and Kathryn J. Mass April 5, 2017 835-8519

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