The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

Going the extra light-year

It took four years of effort to launch the Eau Claire Planet Walk, but it finally made its debut on April 27 to a crowd of over 100 community members and students.

The Planet Walk is situated along the Chippewa River, beginning with the 14-inch, stainless steel sun at the Farmers Market in Phoenix Park and ending with Pluto near Haas Fine Arts Center; eight planets are interspersed throughout this walk on a 3.4 billion to one scale.

Professor of physics and astronomy Paul Thomas began the process of creating the Planet Walk in 2009.

“I taught a Physics 226 class for quite a few years, and we have a lab where students do the calculations to model the solar system,” Thomas said. “After several years, I thought the community ought to have a planet walk for real.”

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Thomas and a student met with the city council and developed the scale, which involved calculating the sizes of the planets and where they would be.

“The initial calculations were actually the easy part,” Thomas said. “The hard part is checking the calculations many times to ensure the monument is correct.”

After the calculations were complete, all that was left to do was to put on a fundraiser and wait for ideal weather to put the planet markers in the ground.

Professor of physics Matt Evans knows of the difficulties that the weather caused in the process quite well. In fact, because of the snow, the markers will not be back in the ground until next week — when the ground will be right for it.

“It was the biggest debacle with rain and snow,” said Evans. “But every time there was a roadblock, Paul (Thomas) overcame it, and the walk really wouldn’t be here without his tireless effort.”

The day of the opening brought many people to the Eau Claire Planet Walk including several of Thomas’ students, members of the Chippewa Valley Astronomical Society (an amateur astronomy society) and those who attended the event.

Senior physics major Travis Yeager was assigned to talk about Mars at the presentation.

“Mars is a small planet, but it has the biggest valley and mountain, which I find interesting, and I think many people don’t know that,” Yeager said.

Another representative of a planet was Heath Hill, a physics education major. Hill opted to present on Saturn when Thomas asked his Physics 232 class if anyone wanted to participate in the Planet Walk.

“Saturn’s rings and the symmetry and beauty they have … is something extremely interesting about the planet,” Hill said.

“The universe is full of planets, and the Planet Walk is an echo of this fact,” Thomas said.

Thomas hopes that people walk away from the Eau Claire Planet Walk with an appreciation for just how big the solar system is and how dispersed and small the planets are by comparison.

Seama Rezai is an international business and Latin American studies major that attended the opening of the Planet walk.

“Visually, it’s very interesting to see the planets on a much smaller scale,” Rezai said, “And walking the trail is a great way to appreciate the distances between planets.”

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Going the extra light-year