North West Slopes, NSW audio tour: Virtual Solar System Drive: From Narrabri to Siding Spring with Fred Watson

Virtual Solar System Drive: From Narrabri to Siding Spring with Fred Watson

Driving Tour

150 mins

About the Tour

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.

Tour Producer


Marnie Ogg

For nearly 30 years, Marnie has been bringing tourism, science and people together. A passion for travel, teamed up with partner astronomer Fred Watson, they have experienced astronomy destinations in more than 80 countries. However, the natural asset Australia has with the abundant and clear night skies has led her to create unique Australian experiences.
The combination of her tour company - Dark Sky Traveller - and her role as the Founder and CEO of the Australasian Dark Sky Alliance encourage people to get out and enjoy the pristine nighttime environment Australia has on offer.

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Major Landmarks

  • Virtual Solar System planets

  • Geological landmarks

  • Gomeroi landmarks

Directions to Starting Point

This tour starts at the Visitors Centre, Tibbereena St, Narrabri, heading south-west on the Newell Highway.

Show Directions
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Places to stop along the way

There are 8 designated planets, plus the sun where you can take photos. There are also suggested stops at Pilliga Pottery, Sandstone Caves and the Australia Compact Array Telescope, which are not included in the commentary.

Best time of day

This is a day time experience, finishing at Siding Spring Observatory. The observatory is open to the public between 10 am and 3.30 pm Wednesday to Sunday year-round and 7 days a week during school holidays.

If you want to do the complete tour, plan your arrival at the Observatory with at least 45minutes on site.


Please be careful when stopping at the planets, and pulling in and out of the designated areas with the billboards. If you are driving on the road at dusk or dawn, be careful and keep an eye out for Kangaroos.

Sometimes in the country, you may lose network coverage, or find yourself off course We recommend restarting the app. It will work out where you are and recommence accordingly.


Preview mode limited to first 3 locations.
Virtual Solar System Drive: From Narrabri to Siding Spring with Fred Watson