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October 18, 2023

Aroostook County's astronomical attraction may get an out-of-this-world upgrade

model of saturn on a stand COURTESY / UNIVERSITY OF MAINE AT PRESQUE ISLE Fundraising is underway to enhance the Maine Solar System Model with a 3D model of the sun in Presque Isle. Seen here is the Saturn model in Westfield.

A plan is in the works to upgrade a key element of an unusual Aroostook County tourist attraction — the Maine Solar System Model.

Fundraising is underway to build a three-dimensional model of the sun, replacing an indoor painting of it on the University of Maine at Presque Isle campus. The depiction of the sun forms one end of the to-scale model, which extends nearly 100 miles along U.S. Route 1 to a model of the dwarf planet Eris, in Topsfield.

The cost of building the 3D sun is estimated at $55,000.

“This is the largest installation we’ve ever undertaken in the Maine Solar System Model’s 20-year history, but it will require considerable community support to make it a reality,“ said Kevin McCartney, a recently retired UMPI professor of geology, Maine Solar System Model coordinator and fundraising lead. 

He added, “The Maine Solar System Model brings a great many tourists and is thus important for economic development to the county, and is also an important education tool for northern Maine.”

The model is featured in the Aroostook County visitor guide published by Northern Maine Development Commission and Aroostook County Tourism, and has appeared in other publications such as Smithsonian magazine.

The university said in a news release that the 3D sun model will be located in front of Preble Hall, on a grassy area between the UMPI sign and a flagpole. That will make the sun model viewable from U.S. Route 1, like all the model planets and moons on the stretch between Presque Isle and Topsfield.

At its new location, the three-dimensional sun model will face south with a quarter-circle base and a 23-foot radius. Four nearly 40-foot-long arches will extend from the top of a 23-foot-tall post to the margins of the base. 

The present sun model is located inside Folsom Hall, painted on the interior walls of the first through third floors and with an edge that extends down the entrance stairwell. The interior location and 2D structure have been longtime disadvantages for those trying to find the model. One of the most-asked questions from campus visitors, according to UMPI, is “where is the sun?”

“Our first announcement about the outdoor 3-D Sun brought much interest, but also requests to make the sun easier to find by being viewable from Route 1,” said McCartney. 

The Maine Solar System is the largest scale model of the solar system in the western hemisphere, and the second largest such model in the world.

Original construction on the model was completed between 1999 and 2003 with nine planets and seven moons. It was expanded to include three dwarf planets in 2008. Other dwarf planets, to be located north of the sun at Lille and Madawaska, are planned.

Established by UMPI and the northern Maine community, the model was built entirely by volunteers as a community project, with all materials and labor donated. Volunteers included a consortium of 12 schools and hundreds of businesses and individuals throughout northern Maine.

The three-dimensional model is presented at a scale of 1 mile equaling 1 astronomic unit, which is the distance from the Earth to the sun, or 93 million miles. A person traveling at 7 mph along the route in Maine moves, on the model's scale, at the speed of light.

The sun model is approved for construction once funds are raised, according to UMPI. McCartney said his goal is to raise the money quickly enough so the model can be up in time for the April 8, 2024 solar eclipse. 

For more information, click here.

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October 19, 2023

This is such a cool project. Someone should submit a listing for the solar system to be included in Atlas Obscura!

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