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Aroostook County is in its own little solar system

People driving Aroostook County can learn about the solar system as they travel through its forty-mile replica.

PRESQUE ISLE (NEWSCENTER Maine) -- If our solar system measured forty miles across, the sun would be the size of a building in Presque Isle and Pluto would be the size of a marble in Houlton.

That profound thought came to Professor Kevin McCartney about twenty years ago. With the help of 700 people from all over Aroostook County, he assembled The Maine Solar System Model.

Of course, our discoveries about the solar system are constantly changing and McCartney must update his work.

"If there's anything wrong, people will tell me, right down to a quarter of an inch," muses the professor who is pleased that his efforts have helped get people to think. He also believes it has attracted a lot of tourism to The County.

"The distance between the sun and earth is ninety-three million miles. That's an astronomical unit," he profesized.

That puts Mercury, Venus and Earth all within a mile of the sun, which is located at the University of Maine in Presque Isle.

The larger planets are properly spaced following Route 1 to the south toward Houlton.

Whenever a change is made to the solar system, McCartney must change his model. "It seems we're finding something every few weeks," he muses.

Two new dwarf planets are being placed. These will be the proper distance from the sun, but to the north away from other planets in the model. "Haumea will be in Lille. Makemake will be in Madawaska," he said.

The model has been a wonderful learning tool for people who drive the road regularly. It drives home the point that our solar system is a big place.

When asked where the next nearest solar system could be placed, McCartney has an intriguing answer.

"If we keep it to this scale, the next nearest solar system would be on the moon! he said. Then, noting how critical some visitors are adds, "approximately!"

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