Trav and I continue to stroll between the planets. Our most frequent route takes us from Neptune to Uranus and within hailing distance of Saturn before we make a left onto the path that leads toward home.
Other days we start with the sun and pass over the inner planets, boom boom boom. That end of the solar system is more densely populated.
On the last day of school we encountered the art teacher stencilling distances from the sun for the three planets closest to it. Mercury is 29 million miles from the sun, Venus 66 million, and Earth 91 million.
Too bad the sun couldn’t have taken up the whole parking area, I said. Then it would have been closer to scale. They’d thought of that, said the teacher, but it would have meant making the parking area off limits for a couple of days while the paint dried. Cyclists, runners, joggers, and walkers park there to access the bike path. Teachers and staff from the school across the street use it too. Besides, it would have taken a whole lot of red and yellow paint to turn the parking lot into a sun.
Once all the distances were in place, I started counting paces between planets. The outer planets took a while because I’d lose my place when I greeted someone passing in the opposite direction, or when Trav had to sniff at the bushes or snatch a tennis ball that some other dog had abandoned. When I counted 285 and 288 paces on two successive trips between Uranus and Neptune, I figured I had to be in the ball park.
A big surprise was that it was 272 paces from Saturn to Uranus — almost as far as from Uranus to Neptune. I could have figured this out from doing the math, but walking made it easier to grasp. Saturn, I realized, is roughly as far from the sun as it is from its neighbor Uranus.
Between the innermost planets it seemed my stride was longer: each one covered about 4 million miles. Once I got down to serious walking it averaged a little under 3.5 million. Yes, I know that if I were outbound from the sun the planets wouldn’t line up as neatly as they do on the bike path. Some of them would be way off in the woods somewhere. They don’t move in neat concentric circles either.
Still, the distances are impressive. And Earth doesn’t seem like the center of the universe either.