Solar system in an atrium

Installation of the planets in CCIS, led by Gregory Sivakoff, 28 November 2011 Assistant professor Greg Sivakoff placing planets in the CCIS west atrium. Photo by Sharon Morsink.

(Edmonton) The stars and the planets have aligned in the Centennial Centre for Interdisciplinary Sciences.

In late November, Department of Physics faculty members, physics grad students and observatory volunteers installed a scale model of the solar system in the west atrium of CCIS.

The display adds to the astronomy-themed character of that part of the building, which is houses the observatory on the fifth floor, and a custom-designed terrazzo floor map of the north sky on the first floor.

"Astronomy does lend itself to strong visuals," said associate professor Sharon Morsink, who coordinates the observatory. When asked for suggestions for interesting displays for the new building, Morsink said members of the astronomy group "saw this gigantic, vertical space and we thought about how it was a nice size to demonstrate the scales of the solar system."

Assistant professor of observational astrophysics Craig Heinke was the driving force behind figuring out the scales, identifying the location for the display and determining how to use the wires and organizing the installation. Altogether, the work began years ago, so that the cabling could be installed as CCIS was built.

For the actual construction and painting of the planets, Heinke contacted Michael Prettyman, who has created displays for the American Museum of Natural History. "The big planets are made of fiberglass, and the rings and small planets are made out of plexiglass," said Heinke. He added, "The Edmonton chapter of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada donated $5,000, a little more than half the funding for building the planets."

Morsink echoed the importance of donations. "Funds for the planets and the Foucault pendulum that shows that the Earth rotates (the pendulum is hung over the terrazzo north star on special occasions) came from donations to the Department of Physics that were earmarked for public education."