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UMPI celebrates 10th anniversary of Maine Solar System Model

Friday, 14 June 2013

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Officials mark milestone with proposed expansion

The University of Maine at Presque Isle's Maine Solar System Model celebrated its 10th anniversary on Friday with a short press conference and the announcement of a proposed expansion into Canada, which would make it the very first international model on record. The Maine Solar System Model was formally dedicated on June 14, 2003, after four years of construction.

The installation, which is one of the exhibits maintained by UMPI's Northern Maine Museum of Science, remains the largest solar system model in this hemisphere, with a scale of 1:93,000,000. At this scale, one mile is equal to the distance from Earth to Sun, known as an astronomical unit. The Sun is located inside Folsom-Pullen Hall, with the planets and dwarf planets located south along Route 1. The model is a major summertime destination, bringing tourists from all over the country, and even around the world, to the region.

"We are delighted to be celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Maine Solar System Model and to announce its proposed expansion," UMPI President Linda Schott said. "This model is a symbol of what can happen when a community comes together to make an exciting vision a reality. More than 700 people have been involved in the creation of our solar system model, and thousands of people have visited Aroostook County to enjoy the installation since its establishment. We are very excited about the prospect of expanding this model into Canada and creating the world's first International Solar System Model."

Plans are developing to expand the solar system model north into New Brunswick and Quebec, as well as East and West of Route 1. The expansion is being done in recognition of, and to coincide with, the 2014 Congrès Mondial Acadien (World Acadian Congress), with two dwarf planets or Kuiper Belt Objects each in the Acadian areas of Maine, New Brunswick and Quebec. A Kuiper Belt Object is also planned both east and west of Houlton, Maine, for eight additions altogether. Once complete, the newly expanded installation would officially be named the "International Solar System Model."

"Science, of course, does not stand still, and since the original construction of this model, astronomers have expanded our knowledge of the solar system and developed the new classification of 'dwarf planets'. Our model must similarly develop to reflect these changes," Dr. Kevin McCartney, Director of the Northern Maine Museum of Science and coordinator of the Maine Solar System Model, said.

Dwarf Planets are smaller and typically have more elliptical orbits than planets. Dwarf Planets are of sizes great than 400 kilometers, which provides enough gravitation attraction to create a spherical shape and clear the surrounding area of debris. McCartney said most of the Kuiper Belt Objects to be included in the model are "dwarf planet wannabes". Two Kuiper Belt objects, Haumea and Makemake, have recently been approved as dwarf planets, while the others are pending. Three dwarf planets are currently represented in the model: Pluto, Ceres and Eris.

The present plan is for the three new objects in Maine—at Lille, Madawaska, and the Katahdin High School in Staceyville—to be mounted on posts similar to the locations already established. The posts would be built at Northern Maine Community College. The five Canadian models would all be located indoors with wall-mounted displays. The proposed Acadian locations are:

  • ASTER, the astronomical observatory in St. Louis-du-Ha!-Ha!, Quebec
  • Le Jardin de l'Écluse in Dégelis, Quebec
  • New Brunswick Botanical Gardens in Saint-Jacques, New Brunswick
  • the municipal library in Saint-Francois-de-Madawaska, New Brunswick, and
  • a fifth location yet to be determined.

Officials hope to have displays in place in time for the World Acadian Congress. The 2014 Congrès is the first to take place in two different countries. After more than 200 years, the world of Acadia is expanding to include northern Maine Acadians. A Congrès Mondial Acadien takes place every five years in an area where Acadian descendants have settled: southeastern New Brunswick; Lafayette, Louisiana; Nova Scotia; northeast New Brunswick; and now to an area known as L'Acadie des terres et des forêts (Acadia of Lands and Forests) that encompasses the Valley, northwest New Brunswick and Témiscouata, Quebec. It is expected that approximately 50,000 visitors from a variety of countries will be here to "discover" Aroostook County.

"The scope of this project perfectly symbolizes the spirit and nature of the Congrès Mondial Acadien 2014 in that it is much bigger than the sum of its parts," Don Levesque, Vice President of the Maine Regional Coordinating Committee of the Congrès Mondial Acadien 2014, said. "In Maine alone, there will be about 55 family reunions and more than 50 community activities. There are just as many in New Brunswick and Québec. This project is a great addition to that collection. It is important that it is also one of the projects that will still be here for all to see once the Congrès is over."

Tentative plans are that there will be a new brochure about the dwarf planets and Kuiper Belt Objects that are part of the model once funding is found. The brochure would be in English and French to be distributed as part of the World Acadian Congress.

"I think the Maine Solar System Model is one of the major summertime tourist attractions to The County," McCartney said. "The expansion will not only increase interest across our border, but will improve the model's use as an educational asset for both countries."