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August 29, 2006 > Pluto to remain part of Maine's roadside solar system

Pluto to remain part of Maine's roadside solar system

HOULTON, Maine (AP), Aug 25 _ Pluto's demotion won't result in its removal from a roadside solar system that stretches from Presque Isle to Houlton.

The International Astronomical Union this week stripped Pluto of its title of planet, meaning the solar system now has eight, not nine, planets. That'll send teachers scrambling to revise their lesson plans for students.

But Pluto will keep its spot in the solar system model that appears along U.S. 1 in the rolling farm country of northern Maine.

The center of this solar system is the sun, which is located at the University of Maine at Presque Isle, home of solar system creator Kevin McCartney.

Driving south, it's hard to miss large planets like Jupiter, which is 5 feet in diameter and weighs close to a ton. The solar system ends 40 miles later with tiny Pluto, only 1 inch in diameter, mounted on the wall of a visitor information center.

``We're not planning on taking down Pluto,'' said McCartney.

The solar system that was created over a four-year period by volunteers in Aroostook County and dedicated in 2003 is billed as the world's largest scale model of the solar system.

At scale _ one mile equals 93 million miles _ 7 mph would be the equivalent of driving at the speed of light. Some planets are surrounded by moons _ seven altogether _ most of which are attached to metal rods that are stuck in the ground.

If anything, the solar system model will probably grow _ not shrink.

McCartney plans to add asteroid Ceres and 2003 UB313, an icy object larger than Pluto that is also known as Xena, after the warrior princess. Those two objects also were designated dwarf planets Thursday.

If astronomers keep discovering new dwarf planets, McCartney conjectured, the solar system model could one day stretch all the way down the coast.

 
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