The Carson City solar system
June 14, 2005
Walk into the Capitol any day this week, and you’ll see a 41Ú2-foot-wide bright yellow sun peering at you from the wall opposite the Capitol Police desk.
It’s the work of Christina Connell, 13, a girl so amazed by the size of our solar system that for her astronomy research project at Carson Middle School, she decided to make the enormity comprehensible to everyone.
“First , I wrote a letter to the governor to see if I could put the sun in the building and he said yes,” Christina recounted. “And then I had to find a place for all the different planets.
“They all wanted to help.”
And that’s what brings The State Library and Archives, Comma Coffee, City Cafe Bakery, Red’s Old 395 Grill, Office Depot, Michael’s Cycle Works, The Manger, Costco and Coldstone Creamery into alignment.
They all have a planet in their establishments. Of course, none of those are quite as large as the bright sun at the Capitol.
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Mercury, for example, in the State Archives and Library foyer, is just less than a quarter-inch, a little red dot on the inside of a column. It would hardly be discernible except for the 8.5-by-11-inch sign Christina hung above it with facts about the first planet out from the sun.
“I cut it out very very slowly,” Christina said, describing the red dot. “It was so tiny I didn’t want to lose it, so I put in a baggie.”
The Earth, at City Cafe Baker, is just a half-inch. Pluto, at Coldstone Creamery, is the smallest at an eighth of an inch.
“I really wanted to get the community involved in it so they could get an idea how big the solar system is,” she said. “I thought it would be fitting to begin this scaled-down tour of our solar system at the state Capitol building since it represents the center of our city like the sun is the center of the solar system.”
She scaled the universe to 1Ú1-billionth of its size. Each planet has information above it, detailing some interesting facts.
“I did a lot of research,” she said.
For example, she found out that Neptune and Uranus are bluish because of the methane in their atmospheres, so she made both of them blue.
It wasn’t too long ago, at the end of May, that she and her dad spent a Saturday putting up the sun and the planets in their various locations.
“It was pretty empty in here when I put it up,” she said recently in the Capitol. “But at all the other places, people stood back and let me work.”
At each stop, her dad, Tom, filmed her. They did take after take until they perfected a six- to seven-minute film to show Christina’s class for her research project.
What’s interesting about the film, she said, is that after she talks about each planet, she snaps her fingers and then fades out.
“I say, ‘Next stop: Venus.’ Then, I disappear and I go to the next planet,” she said. “It was great fun showing everybody that movie. They even wrote about it in my yearbook, like ‘Next stop, let’s go to China.'”
Mike Bushley, an officer for the Capitol Police, said quite a few people have asked about the sun during his shift.
“For the two hours that I’m here when we’re opened, I probably have about three to five people ask about it,” he said. “The majority want to know what is it, and, of course, she has an explanation up on the wall. It’s an attention-getter. I think it was a really amazing project for her to take on.”
The Carson Middle School student will begin Carson High School next year. Her dad said their family has come to expect Christina to go beyond what’s expected on her school assignments.
“We’re kind of used to that,” he said. “She kind of goes the extra miles on her projects. She really puts herself into them and makes everything the best she can make it.”
Her science teacher Terry Parent must have thought so too. The grade he gave Christina on her project?
One hundred and 10 percent.
n Contact reporter Maggie O’Neill at email@example.com or 881-1219.
• The sun is an average-size star, but it dwarfs every planet in the solar system. In fact, about 109 Earths could fit side by side across the diameter of the sun (1.3 million kilometers).
• If you put the sun on a scale, you’d have to put about 333,000 Earths on the other side to even out the scale.
•Also, the sun is so massive that if you could open it up, you could put over 1 million Earths inside it. The sun contains 99 percent of all the matter in the entire solar system.