News & Events

UMPI to unveil 3-D Sun model on day of solar eclipse

Following a successful, four-month-long fundraising campaign, the University of Maine at Presque Isle will install and unveil a 23-foot-tall, three-dimensional sun model as the newest addition to its Maine Solar System Model, and do so just in time for the total solar eclipse. Installation is expected to get underway this week and the unveiling will take place on Monday, April 8 at 10 a.m. in front of Preble Hall. All are invited to attend this special event.

This new installation allows the largest object in the solar system model to be viewable from U.S. Route 1—like other planets and moons—and provides convenient parking nearby for campus visitors. The Maine Solar System Model, which stretches almost 100 miles along U.S. Route 1 from Presque Isle to Topsfield, Maine, is the largest scale model of the solar system in the western hemisphere, and the second largest such model in the world. It features nine planets (including Pluto, which was a planet when the model was first established), three dwarf planets (including Pluto, based on its current status and present location closer to the Sun), and seven associated large moons at Earth, Jupiter, Saturn, and Pluto.

“Together, we’ve achieved an incredible milestone with the Maine Solar System Model, giving the sun a highly visible outdoor presence and aligning it with the other planets in the model,” UMPI President Ray Rice said. “We are incredibly grateful to the donors who made this $75,000 project possible and excited to unveil our new sun on April 8.”

The original sun model is painted on the interior walls of the first through third floors of Folsom Hall with a leading edge that extends down the building’s main stairwell. Its indoor location and mostly 2-D structure have made it difficult for visitors to find the model; for years, one of the most frequent questions asked by campus visitors has been, ‘Where is the Sun?’. Those problems disappear with the new installation, which features a quarter-circle base, a 23-foot radius, and four nearly 40-foot-long arches that extend from the top of a 23-foot-tall post to the margins of the base.

“This new sun won’t eclipse our real sun, but it will be a marvel to behold,” Dr. Kevin McCartney, recently retired UMPI Professor of Geology, Maine Solar System Model coordinator, and fundraising lead, said. “Our Maine Solar System Model brings countless visitors to the County every year, has a very real impact on our region’s economic development, and is an incredible educational tool for northern Maine. Being able to unveil this 3-D sun has been an effort 20 years in the making, and I couldn’t be happier to see it established for generations of people who want to understand the sheer vastness of our solar system.”

Once engineering and design work on the project was completed by B.R. Smith Associates last year, groundwork at the site was done by Soderberg Construction in the fall. A&L Construction created concrete piers and inserted footings for the post and arches. Northeast Doran of Skowhegan fabricated the metal pieces and Central Maine Industrial Painting painted the entire structure with a yellow enamel paint. Falcon Transportation will transport the materials from Skowhegan to Presque Isle and Buck Construction will handle the upcoming installation and related crane work.

Later this year, a concrete pad with walkways and signage will be added to the site and McCartney hopes to add a granite bench as well.

Ahead of the unveiling, the finished installation will be covered with a large swath of material that University leaders are fondly referring to as a “sundress”. University officials and special guests will be on hand for the official unveiling and dedication on April 8.

“We are so fortunate to be surrounded by such a giving community,” Dr. Deborah Roark, Executive Director of University Advancement and External Affairs, said. “The Maine Solar System Model has always been a symbol of how a community can come together and make something truly spectacular happen, and this new addition emphasizes that even more as we were able to make it a reality just in time for the total solar eclipse.”

Established by UMPI and the northern Maine community, the Maine Solar System Model was built entirely by volunteers, with all materials and labor donated. This larger-than-life community project involved a consortium of 12 schools and more than 700 businesses and individuals throughout northern Maine. Dedicated in 2003, this three-dimensional model is presented at a scale of one mile equaling one astronomic unit (AU). One AU is the distance from the Earth to the sun, or 93,000,000 miles, meaning a person traveling at seven miles an hour alongside the model would be moving at the speed of light. The Maine Solar System Model combines the fun of a scavenger hunt with a science education experience like no other—the chance to witness the sheer expanse of the solar system by driving it mile by mile. To learn more, visit www.mainesolarsystem.com.