‘Speed of light’ run marks New Horizons’ Pluto study
PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — On July 15, 2015, northern Maine will host the fastest run ever performed by humans: at “light speed” along the Maine Solar System Model. The run is being held in honor of the NASA New Horizons spacecraft which, after a nine-year voyage, will fly past and study Pluto in mid-July during the close encounter.
As the first post-flyby images are returning to Earth at the speed of light on the morning of July 15, groups of runners will simulate the photo signal by running from Pluto to Earth along the Maine Solar System Model along U.S. Route 1, including the Main Streets of Monticello, Bridgewater and Mars Hill.
Established by the University of Maine at Presque Isle, the Northern Maine Museum of Science, and the northern Maine community, the model is the largest solar system model in the Western Hemisphere, with both the planet diameters and distances from the Sun set to a scale of one mile equal to an astronomical unit (AU, the distance from the Sun to Earth). The model consists of a 50-foot diameter sun and extends 95 miles to the dwarf planet Eris, which is about one inch in diameter.
The “From Pluto” run will begin at 4 a.m., just after sunup on July 15. The “signal” from Pluto to Earth will be passed along relay-style by several groups of runners. Each group will run for approximately five to six miles along the 32-mile course, maintaining an 8-minute, 10-second-per-mile pace in order to run along the solar system model at “scale” light speed (actual light speed is 186,000 miles per second).
Spectators are encouraged to gather in Bridgewater, Mars Hill and at the model of Earth at Percy’s Auto Sales in Presque Isle to cheer on the runners. At the event’s completion, participants are invited to a celebration at the auto dealership.
The “From Pluto at the Speed of Light” run was the idea of Alan Stern, the principal investigator of the New Horizons mission. As a scientific investigation to obtain the first close look at Pluto, the New Horizons spacecraft was launched in 2006. The Maine Solar System Model has been part of the educational outreach for New Horizons during the course of this mission.
The solar system model is part of the Northern Maine Museum of Science, located at the University of Maine at Presque Isle. Both the model and the museum were organized by Kevin McCartney, UMPI professor of geology. McCartney proudly pointed out that the solar system model was built on a budget of “zero dollars,” with all materials and labor donated.
“Northern Maine has a strong identification to the solar system, due to the model, Planet Head Day and the strong science programs in area schools, which include the university and Maine School of Science and Mathematics,” McCartney said.
The museum is one of eight institutions that is part of the educational outreach of the New Horizons mission. For more information, visit www.umpi.edu/pluto-to-earth or contact McCartney at 768-9482 or email@example.com.