Terranauts, strap on your seatbelts and launch into Coonabarabran, the Astronomy Capital of Australia. Every planet in the solar system is just outside your window on this drive from Narrabri to Coonabarabran along one of the longest and straightest roads in New South Wales. They’re on huge billboards and at only 38 million times smaller than reality, they make up the World's Largest Virtual Solar System. It’s entirely to scale too, with both the size of the planets and the distance between them all in proportions that would match the dome of the Anglo-Australian Telescope at Siding Spring Observatory if it was the Sun.
The drive is a perfect opportunity to learn about our real solar system from guest host, Astronomer Fred Watson, along with producer Marnie Ogg. As you make your way to Siding Spring Observatory, Marnie and Fred will point out the three-dimensional models of each planet and tell you which is windiest or hottest or has the longest year – or whether some of them should be considered planets at all. You’ll also find out how we know as much as we do, from both observations made here on earth and the probes we’ve sent out into space.
Fred Watson is Australia’s first Astronomer-at-Large, a position within the Commonwealth Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources that allows him to observe the night sky and share his passion with the general public. He is a graduate of the universities of St Andrews and Edinburgh, and worked at both of Britain’s Royal Observatories before joining the Australian Astronomical Observatory as Astronomer-in-Charge in 1995. Fred is best known today for his award-winning radio and TV broadcasts, books, music and other outreach ventures. He holds adjunct professorships in several Australian universities, and was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 2010. Asteroid 5691 Fredwatson is named after him, but he says that if it ever hits the Earth, it won't be his fault.