News & Events

UMPI showcases vastness of solar system through MOT grant

The University of Maine at Presque Isle has some important new tools to showcase the Maine Solar System Model—both its focus on fun and science education, and its unique status as a social distancing-friendly tourist attraction—thanks to a $7,500 enterprise marketing grant it received through the Maine Office of Tourism’s Marketing Partnership Program.

“Our dark, starry night skies have become an important tourism asset for our state. With this project we can better promote a connected experience, unique to Maine, that will encourage visitors to explore further and discover more of what Maine has to offer,” Steve Lyons, Director of the Maine Office of Tourism, said.

The largest scale model of the solar system in the western hemisphere, and the second largest such model in the world, the three-dimensional Maine Solar System Model extends for nearly 100 miles along U.S. Route 1, from the Sun at UMPI to the dwarf planet Eris in Topsfield.

“Traveling through our solar system along U.S. Route 1 has been a unique offering in northern Maine since the Maine Solar System Model was established in 2003,” UMPI President Ray Rice said. “Through the support from the Maine Office of Tourism, UMPI is now better able to share with visitors—in person and virtual alike—the many things that make our model so special, and encourage them to get out and discover the scope of our solar system for themselves.”

“There’s nothing like driving up Route 1, waiting to spot the next planet and realizing the immense distance between each of our planets,” Kevin McCartney, founder of the Maine Solar System Model, said. “In our model, one mile equals one astronomic unit—the distance from the earth to the sun, or 93,000,000 miles—so a person traveling at seven miles an hour would be moving at the speed of light. Now, we don’t encourage people to travel that speed along Route 1, but the idea certainly puts things into cosmic perspective.”

Those involved in the project worked to capture that sense of wonder in the materials produced. During a virtual media event on Sept. 22, University officials unveiled three major promotional items created through the Maine Office of Tourism grant: a four-fold brochure, interactive website with Google Maps integration – https://www.mainesolarsystem.com, and a video with 3D animation.

“These materials, crafted by UMPI’s Marketing and Communications team, were designed with user-friendliness and fun in mind, and are packed full of science information,” Dr. Deborah Roark, Executive Director of University Advancement and External Affairs and grant administrator, said. “We’re so proud to be making these new materials publicly available, increasing visibility and awareness for the model on social media, and partnering with regional groups to help spread the word.”

UMPI has partnered with organizations including Aroostook County Tourism, Northern Maine Development Commission, Aroostook Partnership, and Greater Houlton Chamber of Commerce on this effort. In addition, in collaboration with the Central Aroostook Chamber of Commerce, the new brochures are being distributed to all 62 chamber offices across Maine and in the four Maine Visitor Centers and kiosks in Kittery, Yarmouth, and New Hampshire.

“The Maine Solar System Model is not an event that can be shut down or canceled, social distancing is a non-issue, and it is unaffected by COVID-19,” LaNiece Sirois, Central Aroostook Chamber of Commerce Executive Director, said. “These are just a few of the many reasons why the model, which is already a significant tourism draw for Aroostook County, is such an important part of our regional tourism offerings. It is crucial to ensure that everyone knows about and has a chance to experience this unique installation.”

“Projects like this are exactly what the Maine Office of Tourism Enterprise Grants program was designed to support,” Hannah Collins, Senior Tourism Officer and grants program manager for the Maine Office of Tourism, said. “The new materials, website and video will increase awareness of the existing Solar System model and amplify the visitor experience, providing yet another great reason to visit Maine.”



Established by UMPI and the northern Maine community, the Maine Solar System Model was built entirely by volunteers as a community project, with all materials and labor donated. Original construction on the Maine Solar System Model was completed between 1999 and 2003 with nine planets and seven moons. It was expanded to include three dwarf planets in 2008. Improvements for the sun and an expansion including two additional dwarf planets are planned. For more information about the Maine Solar System Model, contact UMPI’s Marketing and Communications Office at 207-768-9452 or email umpi@maine.edu.

The Maine Office of Tourism is an office within the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development charged with administering a program to support and expand the state’s tourism industry and promote Maine as a tourism destination. For full information on MOT programs, events and resources, visit the Maine Tourism Partners website at MOTPartners.com. For more information on the Maine Office of Tourism, visit www.visitmaine.com.