THE MOON — The “Sagan Planet Walk” started with a walkable, 5-billion-to-1 scale of the solar system stretching from the Ithaca Commons (where the sun is represented) to the Sciencenter on 1st Street (where the dwarf planet Pluto is shown).

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In 2012, the Sagan Planet Walk got much longer when — in keeping with the 5-billion-to-1 scale — a station depicting Alpha Centauri, the star nearest the sun, was added at the University of Hawaii’s campus.

Now, we’ve learned that the Sagan Planet Walk will get even longer — a lot longer. The newest stop — again in keeping with the 5-billion-to-1-scale — will be on the Earth’s moon.

The station on the moon will represent exoplanet Kepler—37D, which is about 200 light years away from us.

Exoplanet Kepler 37D is joining Ithaca’s Sagan Planet Walk. Image courtesy of NASA
Exoplanet Kepler 37D is joining Ithaca’s Sagan Planet Walk. Image courtesy of NASA

When placed on the Sagan Planet Walk’s scale starting in Ithaca, the exoplanet falls exactly on the moon, according to Tompkins County Legislator Martha Robertson.

Robertson, who spoke about the extension at a meeting in the county’s chambers on Tuesday night, said that a plaque will be installed on the moon in the fall of 2015.

“I don’t think the tourism program is going to get us grants to go see it,” she added, to laughs.

Mayor Svante Myrick confirmed the new part of the Sciencenter exhibit on Thursday.

“All good Ithacans know we are at the center of the Universe,” he said. “It’s nice to know we’re also the center of the galaxy’s largest science exhibit.”

The Sun exhibit, part of the Sagan Planet Walk, on the old Ithaca Commons in 2008. Photo courtesy of mattjlc on Flickr

Kepler-37D is the largest of three planets that orbit the star Kepler-37. It has an orbital period of 40 days and is in the constellation Lyra.

“The new wayfarer station on the Moon will represent an exoplanet approximately 200 light years away, thereby enlarging what is already the world’s largest exhibition to the farthest limit where humans have set foot,” wrote William Alba, a Carnegie Mellon astronomy professor, for an upcoming talk titled The Moon — Limning the Earth and the Heavens.”

When the planet “walk” was extended to Hawai’ii, Cornell adjunct professor Charles Trautmann spoke about how the decision to do so would give the public a “visceral feel” for the scale of the universe.

A Cornell image from 2012 of the new station representing Alpha Centauri along Ithaca’s Sagan Planet Walk at the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center on the University of Hawai’i’s Hilo campus.
A Cornell image from 2012 of the new station representing Alpha Centauri along Ithaca’s Sagan Planet Walk at the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center on the University of Hawai’i’s Hilo campus.

“Imagine standing at the Alpha Centauri station on Hawai’i and looking east over the Pacific Ocean,” Trautmann said in a university news release at the time.

“Some 8,000 kilometers away, at another exhibit station in downtown Ithaca is a pale blue dot only 2.5 millimeters in diameter representing Earth.”

That sense of scale is will only be magnified with the addition of the exoplanet to the Sagan Planet Walk on the moon.

At the county chambers on Tuesday, Robertson noted that local residents will soon be able to see a bit of their hometown in the night’s sky.

“When you look at night sometime, with a full moon, we’ll be there,” she said.


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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.