The next time you’re in Washington DC with your family, why not take a walk through the solar system?
It’s not the first to-scale walking model of the solar system in existence (that honor, I think, goes to the Carl Sagan Planet Walk in Ithaca, NY), and it’s not the spiffiest expression of astronomical scale (hands down the spiral walk around the exterior of New York City’s Hayden Sphere) but it is accessible and in a place where millions come every year. Start in front of the National Air and Space Museum on Jefferson Drive, where one can find the Sun, Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars clustered close together. You’ll have to walk six-tenths of a kilometer to reach Pluto at the “Castle”, further down the Mall. The distances between each planet are accurate on that scale, and embedded in plexiglas are scale-accurate models of each of the planets. Pluto’s little companion, Charon, is only visible by magnifying glass, and the rocky planets aren’t much bigger than a speck of lint on your shirt.
Let your kids stare at those specks a while to help them get an idea of humanity’s relative (un)importance. Take a gander yourself if you dare; there are benches handy nearby in case you feel dizzy, faint or small.