Big Island Solar System
-National Park Service GIS Specialist, Scott Kichman spent his weekend thinking about stuff like this:
Traveling the Solar System from Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
Imagine the Sun is represented by the lava lake inside Kīlauea Caldera. The summit lava lake is within a cylindrical vent cavity with a diameter of ~160 m (520 ft) and nearly vertical sides inset within the east wall and floor of Halema’uma’u Crater. This sets our scale model for traveling the solar system in the Hawaiian Islands. So, picture in your mind a 500 foot sun floating above the lava lake.
First stop: Mercury – Mercury would be a 21 inch ball located about 3.9 miles from the lava lake, or if traveling toward Hilo, imagine an average car tire sitting in the front lawn of Kilauea Lodge in Volcano Village.
Next stop: Venus – so now we are about 7.5 miles down the road with the size of Venus at about 4.3 feet in diameter. Think of a toddler’s swimming pool in the parking lot of Akatsuka Orchid Gardens.
Let’s cruise to our next place, home sweet home. Earth – Okay Terra is a little bit bigger than Venus, but not much by our scale. So think of the same pool but located 10.2 miles down the road or right at the intersection of Glenwood Road. If you could see our 500 foot sun, what would it look like from here?
Last stop for the inner solar system: Mars – Now, Mars is about 2.5 feet in size and located 15.5 miles down the road. Can you imagine an umbrella open at the post office in Mountain View? That about represents it.
So between the inner and outer solar system is the asteroid belt, probably some poor planet that exploded long ago. This belt of rocks would be located at Coconut Island in Hilo, and the average asteroid would be softball size.
The distances really start to grow now, as well as the size of the planets. We have to fly around to the west side of the Big Island for our next stop: Jupiter – We’ll be headed in the opposite direction from Kīlauea Caldera to get an idea of distance. So Jupiter is a big ball, like over 50 feet! It would be 53 miles from our lava lake in the caldera. Think of it as a really big water tank located at Kona Airport. There are 2 right across from the airport if you have seen them; it’s the smaller of the two.
Distances keep getting farther away for our next stop: Saturn – We have to leave the Big Island and fly to Maui to get to Saturn. Saturn would be a 40 foot sized ball located just off the southeast coast of Maui, 97 miles away from Kīlauea Caldera. Did you know that if there was a big enough ocean for the real Saturn, it would float?
On to another gas planet: Uranus – Talk about tilted! Uranus’s axis is flopped on its side. Our modeling makes this blue planet about 18 feet in diameter, and located off of Makapu’u Point to the southeast of O’ahu, over 195 miles from the crater! This would be more like some typical home water catchment tanks in size if you can imagine that.
The next stop is very very cold: Neptune – This ice giant is almost the exact same size as Uranus, but not tilted and probably so cold that all the gas is frozen. Now we are over 300 miles from the lava lake, or roughly a catchment tank off the southeast coast of Kaua’i. Can you imagine trying to see the sun ball floating above the lava lake from this distance, even if it was perfectly clear and there was no curve to the earth?
Last stop… yes I still call it a planet: Pluto – 400 miles away in our scale model, and just the size of those red dodge balls we played with back in school. This ball would be floating 40 miles off the northwest coast of Ni’ihau. Could you find it out there if you had to?
So yah, the solar system is big and maybe we can get a better idea of how small we are in the Universe. If you used a football field scale, or there about, you can use different foods to represent the planets in a solar system model. Ideas for foods to use include a large pumpkin for the Sun, a coffee bean for Mercury, a large blueberry for Venus, a cherry for Earth, a pea for Mars, a grapefruit or small cantaloupe for Jupiter, an orange for Saturn, a kiwi for Uranus, an apricot for Neptune and a squash seed for Pluto, if you are including it. The Sun at the 0 yard line and Pluto at 100 yards. Maybe you can figure the rest? You need the scale? It’s 1:9,133,860 .
Oh, the next closest star to our sun would be Alpha Centauri and even at our scale model, it’s about 3 million miles away from Kīlauea Caldera. Its real distance of 74,000,000,000,000 miles would take 4 years at the speed of light to get there.
-Scott Kichman, GIS Specialist (and weekend dreamer)