A number of years ago, my job involved teaching children in the woods of Illinois about the solar system. Helping kids visualize the distance from Earth to Pluto was much easier — and more fun — when the kids became the planets, walking a prescribed number of paces into the meadow or forest and arranging themselves at the equivalent placement of objects in space. The vastness of the universe hit home when youngsters could see — or not — how far away their friends, i.e. the other planets, were.
A new self-guided walk in Chandler lends families here the same experience, without having to puzzle over calculations and conversions or find a space big enough to create a scaled-down map of outer space. The Chandler Solar System Walk opened last weekend at Veterans Oasis Park.
The 2,500-foot-long path wends around the park’s lake, where a series of monuments and signs representing the sun, eight planets and other major celestial objects are placed at distances relative to the scale of the solar system.
Each foot on the walk represents 1.5 million miles, so, for example, the route from the sun to Earth is 62 feet — equivalent to the actual 93 million miles between the two in space.
Signs include detailed information about the planets, references to ancient cultures that studied the sky, and mythology created around planets and stars. The asteroid belt, dwarf planets and comets are also covered.
The free tour, which you can take anytime 6 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. daily, was created in honor of Howard Israel, a local amateur astronomer known for hosting star parties at Veterans Oasis Park and serving in the East Valley Astronomy Club. He also gave planetarium presentations at Arizona Science Center, volunteered at Lowell Observatory, taught astronomy classes at Chandler Environmental Center and led astronomy lectures for cruise ship lines.
Israel, 78, was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer last year and is under hospice care. His family and friends raised the money for the project, with collaboration from the city’s Recreation and Parks divisions and the East Valley Astronomy Club.
In the future, organizers hope to light up the walk for nighttime viewing, host guest speakers and astronomy classes, and produce pod casts to listen to while touring the Solar System Walk.
Veterans Oasis Park is on the northeast corner of Chandler Heights and Lindsay roads. For information, call (480) 782-2887 or visit www.chandlersolarsystemwalk.com or www.chandleraz.gov/veterans-oasis.
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