Community Solar System moving, growing

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The center of the universe has moved about four miles south. The rest of the planets in our solar system will have to move accordingly.

But at least one won't have to stop for gas to find Earth.

It may take until next fall before it's finished, but Sheldon Schafer is confident it will be a better solar system than ever before and once again become a local tourist attraction.

"Everything has to shift in its orbit and everything will be approximately 25 percent larger. It will be bigger and better," said Schafer, the self-proscribed curator of the solar system.

The topic here is the Community Solar System, which was first established by Schafer, the director of education and planetarium curator at the Peoria Riverfront Museum, in 1992. At the time the system, built to a scale of 125 million to one, was centered at Lakeview Museum. That was where Schafer put the Sun, making it the dome of the Lakeview Planetarium and painting it on the side of the building, 36 feet in diameter.

The furthest planet from the Sun, Pluto (when it was still considered a full-pledged planet) was located at Good's Furniture in Kewanee. The dwarf planet Eris is in Macomb, 60 miles from Peoria. The Earth, as per the scale model, was inside Beachler's service station at University and War Memorial.

In 1992 it was declared by the Guinness Book of World Records to be the largest complete scale model of the solar system in the world. It was still in that spot when Guinness ended the category later, Schafer said.

But Lakeview closed when the Peoria Riverfront Museum opened last October and it presented the museum and Schafer with the opportunity to upgrade and enhance the Community Solar System with a new scale model.

The new model will be larger at a scale of 99 million to 1, with the Sun being both the dome of the new planetarium, which is 46 feet in diameter, and part of the brick pavers (those in red and yellow bricks) on the museum's plaza.

While it wasn't ready when the new museum opened it will be launched — at least in part — this weekend as part of the museum's Interplanetary 5K Race/1 Mile Walk, which begins at 9 a.m. Saturday at the museum.

The event, which also includes a half-mile kids' fun run, will take participants through portions of the world's largest model of the solar system, billed by the museum as "an experience that is out of the world."

The new orbital path of the planets will put Earth, Mercury, Venus and Mars along the riverfront trail. The distance covered by the 5K runners will be equal to the distance from Earth to Jupiter... within the scale of the model, of course.Those who follow the Community Solar System as currently configured and laid out will find Earth inside Beachler's Service Center at University and War Memorial. When the new model is completed this year, Earth will be found along the Pimiteoui Trail on the riverfront.

Models of some of the other planets will be on hand at registration for the event. Registration will be noon to 5 p.m. on Friday and 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. Saturday at the Riverfront Museum. The existing models will be displayed, as well, Schafer said.

That will be the unveiling of the first of the new models, Schafer said. Some won't be ready until later spring or into summer. The largest planet model, Jupiter, will not be ready until fall when it is suspended from the rafters of the Peoria International Airport terminal. "That one is taking some engineering work to complete because of its size. But it will be one of the best Jupiters on the planet," he said.

Previously Jupiter could be found hanging in a stairwell in Olin Hall at Bradley University.

Another change of note is that Uranus will move from Mineral Springs Park in Pekin, where it is found next to the Sundance Sundial, to the new Troutman Park in Princeville. But Pekin will retain its spot in orbit, with the Pekin Library becoming the new location of Saturn, which now is above the front door of the East Peoria Kroger.

Schafer cited Tazewell Machine Works, which donated the work to put Uranus in Mineral Springs Park in a way that made it less vulnerable to the elements. That company will donate the work to move Uranus to Princeville this time. "They are one of our major donors to the project," he said.

Roanoke Motors, which Schafer said has been "a wonderful steward" of the Community Solar System while hosting Neptune, will have to lose its spot under the shift of the orbital path. Neptune is moving to Wyoming, Ill., to Rock Island Trail State Park. Those moves will be made in the summer, he added.

Lakeview, which is being remodeled to become the offices of the Peoria Park District, will continue to be a host location, The dwarf planet Ceres will move there from Forest Park Nature Center.

"Those are examples of how the new orbit will shift the planets," Schafer said. At the same time, Pluto and Eris are dwarf planets that exist in a more erratic orbital path. "So we are going to leave them where they are now, in Kewanee for Pluto and Macomb for Eris," he said.

While Schafer said keeping the model to scale isn't as difficult as it may seem, at least not to him, he will have to compromise somewhat in his placement or Neptune. If kept perfectly to the scale, he said, the planet would end up in the middle of a field somewhere outside Wyoming. "I wanted to keep it in the town and better protected, so I compromised," he said.

Schafer said he hopes the new Community Solar System will make a big splash in the public, particularly since some travel websites such as Roadside America and still list it for its readers. But he isn't sure if it will be as big as in 1992, when there were far fewer solar system scale models of this type in existence. "It's not as unique now as it was 20 years ago," he said.

Because of the way the Community Solar System is spread out there is no way of knowing how many visitors it has had or if it still gets many, he added.

The new orbital path of the planets will be:

CAPTION: This is currently the Sun of Peoria's Community Solar System, painted on the east end of Lakeview Museum and created at a scale of 125 million to 1 in 1992. The planets that surround our Sun are scattered throughout the region, following the scale. With the closing of Lakeview and opening of Peoria Riverfront Museum, a new Community Solar System is in the works, with the new museum's planetarium dome representing the Sun.

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).