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Eau Claire Planet Walk to open April 27

April 22, 2013
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This photo illustration shows the  location of the Saturn marker along the Eau Claire Planet Walk. (Photo illustration by Ben Schram)

EAU CLAIRE — Eau Claire residents and visitors will have the opportunity to walk from planet to planet through a scale model of the solar system in downtown Eau Claire beginning April 27.

The official opening of the Eau Claire Planet Walk will begin at 3 p.m. at the Farmers Market in Phoenix Park.

The Planet Walk, just over a mile in length, will wend its way from a model of the sun in Phoenix Park past informational markers for each of the planets at points along the Chippewa River, ending at a Pluto marker on the UW-Eau Claire campus.

"It provides a real sense of scale for the solar system — how small the planets really are compared to the distances between them," said Dr. Paul Thomas, UW-Eau Claire professor of physics and astronomy and creator of the Planet Walk. "What's more, it's sited along one of the most beautiful river walks in the Midwest."

The scale of the model is 3.4 billion to one, with the sun represented by a sphere 14 inches across. Earth is the size of a small pea.

The official opening will begin with a narrated tour of the Planet Walk, ending at the Haas Fine Arts Center at UW-Eau Claire. Thomas will then deliver a presentation in Phillips Recital Hall at 4:30 p.m. followed by a musical event at 5 p.m.

A telescope viewing opportunity will be available at the Farmers Market starting at 8:30 p.m., weather permitting.

The idea for the Planet Walk grew out of one of Thomas' astronomy courses. Each year students in the course create a scale model of the solar system in a Phillips Science Hall corridor. Thomas observed how surprised students were when they saw, with the aid of the scale model in the corridor, the small sizes of the planets and the great distances between them.

Thomas collaborated with a student to calculate the distances between the planet markers, determine with the planet walk layout and create small models of the planets based on their respective sizes. The idea for the project was presented to the Eau Claire City Council, which unanimously approved the Eau Claire Planet Walk in August 2009.

Donors gave a total of about $23,000 in support of the project through the UW-Eau Claire Foundation.

Donors who supported the project are the Chippewa Valley Astronomical Society in memory of Jim Fitzl; Brady and Jeanne Foust, Eau Claire; James and Patricia Simonsen, Eau Claire; Roland and Pamela Hicks, Eau Claire; Kathleen Rulka and Brian Ewert, Marshfield; David Whiteley, Colfax; Matt Evans, Eau Claire; Dr. Bert, Susan and Anna Moritz, Fall Creek; UW-Eau Claire's L.E. Phillips Planetarium; Michael and Martha O'Halloran, Eau Claire; the Eau Claire Thursday Noon Kiwanis Club and the Wisconsin-Upper Michigan Kiwanis District Foundation; the UW-Eau Claire Department of Physics and Astronomy; and Dr. Daniel and Kerry Kincaid, Eau Claire.

For more information, contact Dr. Paul Thomas, UW-Eau Claire professor of physics and astronomy and creator of the Planet Walk, at thomaspj@uwec.edu.

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ME/JP

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