Oceania Planetary Park: a voyage through the solar system

Trton, the largest moon of Neptune, with its parent planet in the backgroun, part of the Oceania Planetary Park
Trton, the largest moon of Neptune, with its parent planet in the background, part of the Oceania Planetary Park

Opening on Saturday November 16th as a part of the Linden Endowment for the Arts Artist In Residence series, Oceania Planetary Park is the work of Kimika Ying.

Designed as an educational and informative piece, the installation provides visitors with a journey through the solar system – and more. The basic concept is simple to grasp, but actually hides a wealth of detail; as such, the visitor needs to have a little patience, a good hand for moving the camera around and a good eye for spotting things.

You arrive more-or-less at the centre of the region, which has been landscaped as a park surrounded by hills. You’re actually standing on a disc representing the Sun, and a path winding away from it leads you through the parkland and past each of the planets in the solar system in their order of distance from the Sun, winding slowly up towards an observatory sitting up in the hills.

Mars, Oceania Planetary Park
Mars, Oceania Planetary Park

While the distances between the planets are not to scale, the models of the planets most certainly are, allowing the visitor to grasp the huge scale of the outer gas giants of the solar system when compared to the rocky inner worlds. The rotation of the planets is also to scale as well, with one minute of real-time representing 24 hours. This makes it possible to compare the familiar rotation of the Earth with the heady rotation of massive Jupiter, which spins on its axis every 9.9 hours, giving rise to the huge banded weather systems and turbulence visible in its dense atmosphere.

A further sense of scale can be obtained by keeping an eye out for the various moons of the planets which have been included, and which are also orbiting to a scale time of 1 minute to 24 hours. To see some, you have to carefully zoom out and pan around. In the case of Mars, however, you’ll have to zoom-in to the planet relatively closely to see tiny, tiny Phobos and Deimos, both likely captured asteroids, zipping around the planet, little more than dots compared to the bulk of the planet.

Phobos, the innermost of the two, is just some 9,377 kilometres above Mars, and zips around the planet in a little of seven and a half hours. So fast is Phobos’ orbit that, contrary to what logic might seem to dictate, it is slowly falling towards Mars as the result of gravitational tidal forces. At some point, Phobos will reach the Roche limit and well break up, showering the surface of Mars with its remains. Deimos, on the other hand, is further away from Mars (around 23,460 km) and orbiting more slowly than the planet is rotating. This mean tidal forces are having the opposite effect, slowly boosting Deimos away from Mars so that it will eventually break free of the planet’s hold on it.

The far side of the Moon (often wrongly referred to as the "dark side" of the Moon) and below, the Earth
The far side of the Moon (often wrongly referred to as the “dark side” of the Moon) and below, the Earth

As the distances between moons and their “parent” planets are to scale, you’ll have to look a little further afield in order to see some of them, as noted above. Such is the case with our own moon, pictured above, and with Neptune’s Triton, seen in the picture at the top of this piece, which is nique among the large moons of the solar system as it is in a retrograde orbit about its parent. As you approach Jupiter, keep an eye out for Io, the most volcanically active place in the solar system, and the closest of the Galilean moons to their parent planet.  When you do find a moon, try clicking on it; a link to additional information may be offered to you.

Jupiter: Oceania Planetary Park
Jupiter: Oceania Planetary Park

There are further touches here not to be missed. Each planet has its own information board which will give you a wealth of information on each planet, complete with links to external resources. The gravity well of each planet is neatly represented by a depression in the ground under it, making for a further means of comparison. As you  pass the planets, you may also note that texturing may appear to be missing on parts of them. It isn’t. Blank areas denote those parts which remain unseen by human and / or robotic eyes in our explorations of the solar system.

The path ends at the doors of the observatory. Just outside of this sit tiny Pluto and Charon, the largest of its five known companions.

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