Space Model Brings Vast Distances Down to Scale

Jan. 15, 2010

A physics colloquium on Wednesday began with a dedication of a poster that places the closest star to our sun squarely atop UT Dallas.

The event was the result of an effort by the Gruppo Astrofili di Piacenza astronomy club in Italy to illustrate the vastness of space.

The club created an “Astronomy Park” scale model of the solar system using posters to mark the locations of various heavenly bodies. Club members set the scale at 1:5,000,000,000, or about 79,000 miles per inch, so that the model could fit inside a public park in Piacenza, Italy.

Using the same model, the Gruppo Astrofili calculated that Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to the sun, would fall 4,971 miles from Italy (4.2 light years). That’s about how far the club is from Dallas.

To mark the spot, the Italians contacted members of the Texas Astronomical Society of Dallas (TAS), which holds monthly meetings on campus.

“The TAS has been involved with UT Dallas for several years, hosting observation sessions for the Women in Physics summer camps and bringing telescopes to campus for astronomical events,” said Dr. Joseph M. Izen, professor of physics

President David E. Daniel welcomed attendees and thanked the TAS and UT Dallas physicists for collaborating to bring the poster to the University. Dr. Myron Salamon, dean of the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, joined the president in lauding the teamwork involved.

“We’re pleased to join with the Gruppo Astrofili di Piacenza and the Texas Astronomical Society of Dallas in bringing the vastness of the universe down to Earth,” Salamon said.

The Proxima Centauri poster will be on display in the Founders North building until it moves to its permanent location in the new Math, Science and Engineering Teaching-Learning Center.

“We always knew we were a stellar university,” Izen said. “Now, thanks to the Gruppo Astrofili and the TAS, we are the lone star in Texas.”

The colloquium that followed the dedication showcased the astrophotography of John Davis, a published photographer and local animation expert. Astrophotography captures distant celestial objects with specialized cameras and telescopes.


Media contacts: Brandon V. Webb, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, Brandon.webb@utdallas.edu
or the Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, newscenter@utdallas.edu

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Light Years Away

poster dedication

Dallas is where astronomers would find the star Proxima Centauri if the sun were in Piacenza, Italy, as it is in a recently constructed scale model of the Solar System. Attending a dedication are (from left) TAS spokesperson Crystal Chadwick, Dean Myron Salamon, Professor Joseph M. Izen, astrophotographer John Davis and President David E. Daniel. (Click on the image for a larger view of a poster marking the site.)

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