By BROOKE FELDMAN
VENTNOR – Astronomy lovers of all ages flocked to the Ventnor boardwalk Saturday, July 3, for the kickoff tour of a Solar System display.
Residents and visitors arrived at 10 a.m. in front of the Ventnor Community Center to begin the half-mile walk representing the 3.7 billion miles between the sun and Pluto. Every inch on the boardwalk represents 100,000 miles.
“This is a neat, educational way to teach kids and adults about our Solar System,” Ventnor City Commissioner Lance Landgraf said.
Sustainable Downbeach member Steve Jasiecki and NASA Solar System Ambassador Michelle Stella Riordan are longtime friends who brainstormed the idea last fall.
“This is a way to get people to think a little bit outside the box,” Jasiecki said. “When you start seeing things with a different perspective and gaining a little bit of an understanding, it enhances our own way of thinking about the world.”
The walk is designed to scale, allowing participants to visualize the distance between the sun and other planets in the Solar System. The Mercury poster hangs from the boardwalk railing just 10 steps away from the sun, whereas dwarf planet Pluto is a half-mile away.
“I read a lot about astronomy and you never get this sense of scale which makes it real, rather than just seeing pictures in a book,” said Matt Klyman, who brought his fascinated granddaughter for the educational tour.
Riordan stood at the Earth poster and turned to find the suspended 8.5-inch yellow ball representing the sun.
“When we look back to the sun from Earth on the boardwalk, we can actually see how far it is and what it would look like from that planet,” said Riordan, who demonstrated that if the sun was an 8.5-inch ball, the Earth would be the size of a peppercorn. “It is just a visual, fun, and scaled-down version.”
Riordan led the group down the boardwalk to Oxford Avenue, stopping at each planet along the way. Participants read the informational posters, answered trivia, and asked questions that Riordan was happy to answer.
The tour was catered to the children but accompanying adults and curious pedestrians were amazed by how much they did not know about the Solar System.
Riordan was excited to teach the adults in the crowd, but she is especially hoping to inspire the next generation.
“We are in this amazing renaissance of planetary exploration,” said Riordan, who has been hooked since her grandfather lent her his telescope when she was 13 years old. “It is fascinating that we are going back to the moon and to Mars. NASA needs the next generation to be inspired.”
The young participants were more than inspired as they listened attentively throughout the entire tour.
“I want to be an astronaut one day and see other planets,” said 7-year-old Malachi Hunter, who raised his hand for every trivia question thrown his way.
Jasiecki and Riordan hope to host more guided tours. In the meantime, boardwalk-goers can obtain a brochure at the Ventnor Library and kickstart their own tour. The posters and sun replica will remain on the boardwalk for the foreseeable future.
“I hope that one day I can see some of these kids saying they made it to NASA,” Riordan said.