Scale Model of the Solar System
In 1992, the Guinness Book of Records recognized the world's largest scale model of the solar system as the one emanating from the Lakeview Museum of Arts and Sciences in Peoria.
It begins with a 36-foot high sun painted on one side of the museum. The scale of the model is 1 mile per 125 million. So Pluto, an inch in diameter, is displayed in a furniture store in Kewanee, some 35 miles to the northwest. In between are the orbits of the other eight planets.
Sheldon Schafer, Director of Education at the Lakeview Museum, is credited with the idea -- a good one, we think. He put it together more than a decade ago. He created the planets out of Plexiglas, then had them painted to photographic accuracy. The smaller planets are affixed to explanatory plaques, which make them easier to find.
Over the years, the popularity of this model has grown, and places all over the world have volunteered to host comets (which have orbits taking them well beyond Pluto). Currently, comets reside at such far-flung locales as the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, CA, the Instituto Geogragico Militar in Quito, Ecuador and the South Pole. Many Peoria schools have asteroids.
Locations have changed over the years, so recheck before you visit. Saturn is floating above the entrance to a Kroger's in East Peoria. It's also been housed at both the Greater Peoria Regional Airport and Illinois Central College. Jupiter has moved from a bank lobby downtown to Bradley University's Olin Hall. The most permanent of the planets is Uranus, atop a brick pedestal in Pekin's Mineral Springs Park.
In June 2003, a larger scale model of the solar system was dedicated in northern Maine, extending more than 40 miles along US Highway 1. It was hailed as an embodiment of "the can-do spirit of Aroostook County. Maine's scale is 1 mile per 93 million.
Peoria's model gets points for being first. But Maine has learned from Peoria's shortcomings. While all of Maine's planets are outside, most of Peoria's planets are indoors. Which means you can't always see them. When we visited, we learned too late that the barbershop housing Venus was closed Sundays and Mondays.
And all the planets in the Maine model are lined up along one highway. While this rarely happens in nature (recall the new age hysteria surrounding the five planet Harmonic Convergence), it does make for an easier road trip.
Other scale models exist in places like Boulder, Colorado and Eugene, Oregon, though most are much smaller. Ithaca, New York has one dedicated to Carl Sagan, and the one in Boston that starts at The Hayden Planetarium is now #3 on the list.
Rumors persist that a 200-mile model in Sweden will one day be completed, though at last observation it was still missing several planets.
But Peoria's is the still only solar system model with a bikini-clad Uniroyal Gal along the trek between Saturn and Uranus. Were she part of the scale model, her real measurements would be 142,000 miles x 95,000 miles x 142,000 miles. Too bad there's no Guinness category for that.
Update: In 2013 the Sun part of the model moved 4.5 miles south to the new Peoria Riverfront Museum. This also shifted the location of the first few planets, which now range out along a convenient, adjacent riverfront trail.