Stretched along the St Kilda foreshore, south west of the city, is something unlikely; a to-scale model of our entire Solar System. St Kilda is one of the few places you will find that actually has its own sun.
The St Kilda solar system starts in the southern part of the suburb, near the marina.
The beginning is marked by a metal, 1.5 metre sculpture of the sun. The sculpture's surface is marked with a dramatic, undulating surface, reflecting the turbulent nature of our closest star.
Models of the other 8 planets, and Pluto, are then spread out along the seafront, with the distances between each sculpture mirroring that of the real planets. So the earth sculpture, in reality 150 million km from the actual sun, is 150 metres from the sun sculpture.
This scale also means that the four rocky, inner planets are also quite tiny. The Earth, shown above, is about the size of a marble and our moon, also depicted, is the size of an even smaller marble.
You can breeze by the first four planets – Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars - within a cosy 230 metres of the sun sculpture. After this, you reach the larger, gas giant planets of the outer solar system.
14 cm Jupiter is large enough to show some of the planet's cloud patterns and famous red spot, and 12cm Saturn has a very cool rendering of the famous ring system. The distance between the sculptures is now measured in kilometres.
By the time we reach Pluto, no longer considered a full planet, the scale of the sculptures has reduced again; this tiny object is only 24mm across. Pluto can be found 5.9 kilometres away from the sun, in Hobson’s Bay.
The St Kilda Solar System was conceived in 2005.
Christopher Lansell was a science graduate teaching astronomy at Monash Uni, when he felt the need for a creative outlet. He teamed up with London based photographer Ed Redman, who shared Lansell’s enthusiasm for science, and together they conceived the solar system project.
The idea was to represent the enormous scope of the solar system, and the wider universe, in a tangible, comprehensible way. Lansell and Redman also hoped to highlight how tiny our planet is, lost in the vast emptiness of space:
'I wanted to show how fragile and special this place Earth is. As you age, you forget that you actually live on a floating ball in space. It's very strange.'
The pair laid out a temporary solar system model along the foreshore in 2006. They chose the location as they needed an area with a lot of space, where there would be plenty of curious passers-by.
The response was better than Lansell hoped for:
'The result was out of this world. Overwhelmingly positive. We pulled out all the stops to ensure it got funding and became a permanent feature.'
-Janet Cripps, Mayor, City of Port Phillip
With funding from the council, Lonely Planet, and private benefactors, Lansell was able to create a permanent version of the model, which he completed in 2009. Each sculpture is accompanied by a plaque, with basic planetary information.
It’s a unique idea, and simultaneously at odds with its surroundings, and perfect for them. A great piece of scientific 3D public art, and all the more wonderful for its inherent dorkiness.
More info here.