I am always looking out for new experiences, wherever I may find myself.
Published April 16th 2012
Driving. It's just a means of getting from A to B right? Wrong. Take a drive around Coonabarabran in the NSW Hunter Valley and the drive is the attraction. Because this area makes up The World's Largest Virtual Solar System Drive.
This scale model of our solar system is 38 million times smaller than the original and consists of roadside billboards depicting individual planets. Each billboard also includes information on the planet, its size and its distance from the sun. The centre of the solar system can be found at Siding Spring Observatory in Warrumbungle National Park where the sun is represented by the observatory's 37 metre Anglo-Australian Telescope (which can be seen from a public viewing platform).
You can find most of the planets closest to the sun by following Observatory Road on its 27 kilometre route from the observatory to Coonabarabran. For the last few planets, take your pick from the five main roads leading out of town. The routes end in Dubbo, Birriwa (north of Gulgong), Merriwa, Tamworth and Bellata (south of Moree) with a Pluto billboard around 200 kilometres from the Siding Spring Observatory.
The idea for The World's Largest Virtual Solar System Drive came from Coonabarabran astronomer John Shobbrook in 1997 and a grant from the Federal Government 10 years later allowed it to become a reality. Today the drive exposes tourists and students to the vastness of our solar system and encourages an interest in astronomy and science, while also providing an incentive for drivers to stop and rest on their long trips through the Hunter Valley.
In all there are 24 planets you could come across, with the billboards located on roadsides or at local Visitor Information Centres. So if you happen to pass through the area why not take a look, even if you don't manage to complete the whole drive. There are even a number of other observatories you could visit, such as Parkes Observatory or Dubbo Observatory (which offers guided tours for groups at night).
For more information on The World's Largest Virtual Solar System Drive click here.