Solar system recreated in Derry Sculpture Trail | festivals

A glowing silicone sun measuring 2.3 meters in diameter and a pinhead-sized Pluto have been brought back to earth in an extraordinary model of the solar system aimed at giving the public a true sense of the vastness of space.

The 10km riverside sculpture trail opens in Derry on Friday as part of Unboxed, the £120m government-backed celebration of creativity that will span the UK over the next coming months.

Our Place in Space is one of 10 free-to-visit installations drawing inspiration from the festival’s arts, science, engineering, technology and math, originally commissioned in 2018 by Theresa May.

Although some have called it a “Brexit festival”, its creative director, Martin Green, has described Unboxed as the UK’s “largest and most ambitious public creative programme”.

The Solar System Trail, which will later move to other locations in Northern Ireland and Cambridge, was designed by artist and author Oliver Jeffers, with support from renowned astrophysicist Professor Stephen Smartt.

Each planet model, hand-painted by Jeffers, sits in a colorful arched sculpture placed along the pathway to scale the great distance between each planet in the solar system.

“It shows there’s a huge amount of space in space,” said Jeffers, whose award-winning children’s books include How To Catch a Star and Lost and Found.

The journey, complete with an augmented reality app, live events and a book written and illustrated by Jeffers to be released in the fall, also shines a light on how the people of Earth fought for space.

“For centuries we have defined ourselves by who we are and who we are not. Whose side we choose, what ground we stand on, who and what we fight for,” Jeffers said.

“We hope to encourage people to think about humanity’s place in the universe, what it means to exist on Earth, the only place known to support life, and how to sustain such life for many generations to come.

“With distance comes perspective – and what happens to our perspective on everything when we look at Earth from space?”

The model of Earth measures 2.2cm, compared to the planet’s actual diameter of 7,917 miles (12,742 km) – a scale of 591 million to one. “We settled on the scale pretty quickly when we realized 4mm was about as small as Pluto could get,” Smartt said.

In a sign of public enthusiasm for space projects, 1,000 people signed up in Derry on Saturday to try to break the current record of 257 for the most people dressed as astronauts in one place at one time. 500 other people are on the waiting list.

Green, who is also Creative Director of this year’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, said: “Our place in space is a wonderful way to explore our solar system right here on Earth, with the beautiful sculptures of the planets of Oliver adding a new dimension to the landscape in which they are placed.

“Like other Unboxed projects, it’s a fabulous collision of art, science and technology and asks questions about who we are and our relationship to each other.”

Our Place in Space runs until October 16 at three locations in Northern Ireland: Derry (April 22 – May 22), Divis and Black Mountain (June 11 – 10 July) and the North Down Coastal Route (September 17 – October 16). It will be in Cambridge from July 30 to August 28.

This article was modified on April 22, 2022 to correct the dates when the project will be in Divis and Montagne Noire.

Arline J. Mercier