The Hills gets solar system

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PARIS — The Oxford Hills is going to have its own solar system.

It will be visible to everyone walking along the Riverside Trail, a one-mile trail linking the rail at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School and the trail at Oxford Hills Middle School.

Oxford Hills Middle School students who have clearing brush on the trail are, from left,  Lucas Masselli, Alec Pontoo, Gage Stevens, Raoul Marston-Connell, Michael Dyer, John Kelly, Anthony Carter and Brianna Darling. Kneeling in front is  Damien Drummond.
Oxford Hills Middle School students who have clearing brush on the trail are, from left,  Lucas Masselli, Alec Pontoo, Gage Stevens, Raoul Marston-Connell, Michael Dyer, John Kelly, Anthony Carter and Brianna Darling. Kneeling in front is  Damien Drummond.

From the Sun to the planet Neptune and everything in between – Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Saturn, Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune – the 1- to 2.9-billion scale model of the solar system will provide an educational and healthy jaunt in the woods.

“It’s going to be really cool,” 8th grade student Anthony Carter of Waterford said as he and nearly a dozen other middle school students took rakes, saws and other tools to clear the bushes and weeds that have overgrown the trail in places.

The undertaking is all part of a learning service project that students have been working on over the last two years.

The idea to create the solar system along the walking trail was conceived two years ago by middle school math teacher Kyle Morey during a conversation about experiential learning among language arts teacher Laurie Catanese, science teacher Mededith Wheeler and special education teacher John Rothrock.

Morey said the idea was to develop an integrated unit tying in different disciplines including the sciences, math, social studies and other curriculum, plus to do it as a service learning project.

“I said, I think we can do something really cool with the solar system,” Morey explained.

Currently the students spend 30 to 40 minutes near the end of each school day cleaning and clearing out the path. Construction of the gravel walkway, that was dedicated in 2011, was financed through a New Balance Foundation grant to Stephens Memorial Hospital. Its goal was to encourage healthy lifestyles for students and the community at large.

In addition to the cleanup, posts have been inserted on the trail at a scaled distance to match up with the solar system. In the future, students will build planet models and provide information on each of the planets and the sun to put on the posts, said middle school mathematics teacher Dianne Slicer.

Morey said the planets will be made with the assistance of Maine Machine Products and Crazy Horse Racing, both Paris-based companies that work with the SAD 17 students on various projects in an ongoing business-education initiative program.

Maine Machine Products, which manufactures custom components and assemblies for high tech markets,  is expected to fabricate the first planet – Mercury – which will be about the size of a ball bearing.

“The scale model of our solar system is 1:2.9 billion or 1 to 2.9 billion. So our model planets are 2.9 billion times smaller than the actual planets and the scale distances between our planets are also 2.9 billion times closer to each other,” Morey explained.

Morey said that as an example, the actual diameter of the sun is 1,391,900 km and the middle school scaled sun will be 18.8 inches in diameter, which is 2.9 billion times smaller.

The small planets will be made by Maine Machine Products while the larger ones will be created by Crazy Horse Racing, well known in the racing circuit for building high performance parts, engines and chasses.

Jupiter will be the largest planet at 16 feet in diameter. Eventually the planets will be painted probably with fiberglass and encapsulated .

Morey said the students have been “thinking outside the box” making suggestions for the planets’ design  such as providing an inside seat in the planet Jupiter.

Not everyone is convinced that all the planets will be represented on the Oxford Hills solar system model.

Carter believes Pluto, originally considered the ninth planet but now classified as a dwarf planet, should be included.

Pluto was discovered in 1930 and was considered the smallest planet until it was reclassified as a dwarf plant even though it orbits the sun just like other planets.

On average, Pluto is more than 3.6 billion miles (5.8 billion kilometers) away from the Sun. That is about 40 times as far from the Sun as Earth, according to information on NASA’s website.

“In my eyes it’s still a planet,” said Carter.

ldixon@sunmediagroup.net