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March 25, 2024

Just in time for April 8 eclipse, a new sun is about to dawn at UMPI

Model sun Image / Courtesy of UMPI The University of Maine at Presque Isle will unveil a shiny new three-dimensional model of the sun on April 8, the day of the total solar eclipse. The installation will be the biggest addition to the Maine Solar System Model since its establishment more than 20 years ago.

On April 8, as visitors swarm northern Maine to glimpse the Great American Eclipse, a shiny new 3D scale model of the sun will come out at the University of Maine at Presque Isle.

Installation starts this week for the 23-foot-tall structure. It's the newest addition to the Maine Solar System Model, which was built 20 years ago and now stretches from UMPI’s campus for 100 miles along U.S. Route 1 to the dwarf planet Eris in Topsfield.

The $75,000 cost of the new sun is higher than the previously estimated $55,000 price tag for the upgrade, as reported by Mainebiz in 2021

The new installation will replace an original sun model painted on the interior walls of the first through third floors of UMPI's Folsom Hall, with a leading edge that extends down the building’s main stairwell.

While that model's indoor location and mostly two-dimensional structure made it hard for visitors to find, the new version  aims to make the largest object in the solar system highly visible and accessible. Located outdoors in a prominent spot on campus, the new sun will feature a quarter-circle base, 23-foot radius and four nearly 40-foot-long arches that extend from the top of a 23-foot-tall post to the edges of the base.

Raymond Rice
File photo
UMPI President Ray Rice

“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,” said UMPI President Ray Rice. “We are incredibly grateful to the donors who made this $75,000 project possible and excited to unveil our new sun on April 8.”

Ahead of the unveiling, the finished installation will cover with a large swatch of material that university leaders are calling a "sundress." University officials and special guests will be on hand for the official unveiling and dedication on April 8.

Several businesses have been involved in building the structure.

After B.R. Smith Associates Inc., of Presque Isle, completed engineering and design work on the project last year, Caribou-based Soderberg Construction conducted site work in the fall. A&L Construction Group, of Massachusetts, created concrete piers and inserted footings for the post and arches. 

In addition, Northeast Doran of Skowhegan fabricated the metal pieces and Central Maine Industrial Painting, also of Skowhegan, painted the structure with a yellow enamel paint. Falcon Transportation LLC, of Presque Isle, will bring the materials from Skowhegan to Presque Isle, while Buck Construction Inc., of Mapleton, 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, according to UMPI.

Eclipse tourism

The April 8 eclipse, when the moon will completely cover the face of the sun for several minutes, will pass over Mexico, the United States and Canada, casting portions of 15 states into darkness. Between 1 million and 4 million people are expected to travel to the path of totality, from Texas to Maine, in what is expected to be the year's biggest travel event.

In northern Maine, Houlton will experience the longest duration of totality, of around 3 minutes and 19 seconds, around 2:20 p.m. on the day, a Monday. All of Aroostook County as well as Millinocket, Rangeley, Greenville and Jackman are being touted as prime viewing spots by the Maine Office of Tourism.

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