The National Space Society, an informal group of space enthusiasts who join together for camaraderie and education, has provided a $3,000 grant to support the “From Pluto at the Speed of Light” run along the Maine Solar System Model. This first-of-its-kind event—billed as the fastest run ever performed by humans because it will be conducted at “light speed” (186,000 miles per second) along the Maine Solar System Model—takes place on July 15 and is being hosted by the University of Maine at Presque Isle [UMPI], the Northern Maine Museum of Science [NMMS] and the northern Maine running community.
The run celebrates the NASA New Horizons mission to Pluto and will be synchronized with the sending of the New Horizons spacecraft photos taken from the close encounter with Pluto. Event organizers are very pleased to receive the funding from the National Space Society to help them carry off this celebration of an especially historic event. The National Space Society has 39 chapters in the United States and six elsewhere in the world.
“Northern Maine has an especially strong identification with the solar system, having constructed the largest scale model in this hemisphere,” Kevin McCartney, event organizer, NMMS Director, and UMPI Professor of Geology, said. “We’re delighted to have this funding support from the National Space Society to help us host the fastest run ever done on Earth.”
Established by UMPI, NMMS, and the northern Maine community, the Maine Solar System Model was built by a large group of schools, organizations and individuals over a period of four years, and was finished in 2003. The NMMS has been an education outreach partner with New Horizons since the spacecraft launch in 2006. Each year, near the February 18 anniversary of Pluto’s discovery, the museum and UMPI hold “Planet Head Day,” an event where participants shave their heads and have them painted as planets in celebration of the New Horizons voyage.
The scale for the model is 1 mile to 1 astronomical unit (AU), which is the distance from Earth to the Sun. There are 40 AU from the Sun to the average distance to Pluto, depicted by a model at the Houlton Information Center in Houlton, and 33 AU to the present Pluto location, shown by a model next to the sign in front of the Southern Aroostook Agricultural Museum in Littleton along U.S. Route 1. One hundred yards at this scale is about 5 million miles, which makes the “speed of light” about 7 miles per hour. This works out to be an 8 minute, 20 second running pace per mile.
The “From Pluto” run will be a relay broken into seven segments, starting at 3 a.m. at the Houlton Pluto model and ending at the Earth model, located at Percy’s Auto Sales in Presque Isle. Spectators are encouraged to gather in Bridgewater, Mars Hill and at the model of Earth to cheer on the runners.
Once the run finishes, participants and others will be able to see the close encounter picture that has just come in from Pluto. McCartney has had his head shaved and painted annually as Pluto during Planet Head Day, but the painting has always been at the “artist’s discretion,” since no clear picture of Pluto is currently available. The celebration at Percy’s will mark the first clear image of Pluto.
Organizing the running portion of this event is Evan Graves, who is a coach at the Limestone and Caribou high schools. Graves has run 10 marathons, including a 32nd place finish at a Boston Marathon, and will be running the entire course. Ty Thurlow, a running coach at Mars Hill, also will be running the entire 39 AU. Both Graves and Thurlow will be group leaders over one of the seven segments of the relay. Other group leaders will be Chris Rines, Angela Ewing, Mike Smith, Mike Waugh and Justin Fereshetian. Chris Smith, UMPI cross country running coach and president of the Maine Mûsterds running club, has also helped in the organization of this event.
The “From Pluto at the Speed of Light” run was the idea of Alan Stern, the Principal Investigator of NASA’s New Horizons mission. As a scientific investigation to obtain the first close look at Pluto, the New Horizons spacecraft was launched in 2006. As part of an extended mission, New Horizons will move deeper into the Kuiper Belt to study one or more of the icy, rocky objects in that distant region.
Prior to the “From Pluto” run, a planetarium talk about Pluto in celebration of New Horizons will be given by Larry Berz at the Francis Malcolm Science Center in Easton on Thursday, July 9, at 4 p.m. The public is invited to attend this free event.