Allan visits the centre of the biggest model on Earth at Otford, UK

A aerial view of the Otford Solar System model

A aerial view of the Otford Solar System model taken from Maps Live (position
51º 18′ 55″ N, 000º 11′ 16″ E)

Recently one of the Sydney Observatory staff members Allan Kreuiter, currently at the Powerhouse Museum, while on a tour in the UK visited the little village of Otford that is home to a large model of the solar system. Here is his report:

Otford is a sleepy village in the middle of Kent UK, it has a population of around 4000, a remarkable duckpond in the middle of its roundabout, a champion under 13 cricket team… and a model of the Solar System that stretches around the world! You get to Otford by driving down the A225 South East of London travelling successively windier and smaller roads, and then if you search around you can find on the far end of a muddy soccer field, a series of plinths with planets on them.

Ground view of some of the planet pillars of the Otford Solar System, image Allan Kreuiter

Ground view of some of the planet pillars of the Otford Solar System, image Allan Kreuiter

The planets are set-up in their orientation as of January 01, 2000 (which they claim incorrectly is the start of the Millennium) and on each plinth is a scale representation of solar system objects The scale is 1:4,595,700,000 (ie 1mm = 4,595.7km). I first found Jupiter by (literally) stumbling over it at the corner of the field. It looked like a little marble and it had an arrow that pointed at the Sun about 100metres away. Walking closer to the plinths we saw the Sun model that would have been a sparkling metal dome, had there been any sunshine in England.

Photo of Alan with the sun pillar

Allan with the Sun pillar, image Allan Kreuiter

Earth had the Moon on the same plinth as an engraved dot, and the other planets were similar. We looked in vain for Saturn and the outer planets, including asking the locals most of whom did not know the model was there at all, and finding out later that Saturn was in a surgery carpark while the rest were scattered around footpaths within a kilometre of the snowy field. As the (real) sunlight was failing and the clouds and freezing wind promised more snow we left the Solar System stopping only to read the sign that said that there were three more components to the model to scale: a model of the closest star to our own, Proxima Centauri at Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, a model of Barnard’s star in the Falkland Islands museum and Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, at our own Sydney Observatory.

Allan Kreuiter

Yes, the Sirius model is at Sydney Observatory, but not yet on regular display. Maybe soon….

2 responses to “Allan visits the centre of the biggest model on Earth at Otford, UK

  • “Sirius in Sydney” really puts inter-stellar distances into perspective.

    This is the first signature on the “Put Sirius on display” petition!

  • I am sorry I was not there to greet you -youwould have been most welcome. I state in my book that there is some controversy as to when the Millennium should be celebrated but that the start of year 2000 was the most popular choice. Nick Lomb should have a copy but if not I will send you one. I am sorry also you did not come across one of our leaflets which includes a map. Some of the shops as well as the Heritage centre carry them. When the Heritage centre is open-every week day morning and limited times on Saturday and Sunday- you would have seen model of the stars which are placed around the planet and a large scale map of the village showing the progress of the planets round the village at the start of each year. We are still developing the model and I hope that the IYA will help to make more people aware of the model’s existence. I am current working on amongst other things, viewpoints from well outside the recreation ground looking back to the centre which I hope will give a sense of the vastness and emptiness of space. Perhaps now that you are back in Sydney you personally will have a dirct sense of the distance between stars David Thomas curator

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