Thursday, 5 April 2012

"I can see Uranus from up here....."!?

The story so couple living in Teddington, UK, spot opportunity to live and work  for two years in the Falkland Islands, 400 miles off the Argentine coast.  Jump through hoops, pack/store belongings, leave colleagues, friends, family, Royal Parks, excellent restaurants and bright lights behind, and set up home in Port Stanley (or just "Stanley" to its friends).

Two Sisters.  4 horses. Near Moody Brook.

Now - wife works for Falkland Islands Government, swims, walks to work; husband cooks,  keeps active, Nordic Walks, explores, writes blog and takes photos of penguins, hills and sunsets.

We have explored a few islands and East Falklands.  Now for the rest of the Solar System!  Read on, as I take you to Jupiter and beyond...........!  Is there life on Mars?
"Fly me to the Moon
Let me swing amongst the stars
Let me see what Spring is like
On Jupiter and Mars......"

The Sun and the Planets.  The inner planets are pea-sized compared to Jupiter and Saturn.

Soon after we arrived  in Stanley, we noticed a big, rusting sphere on the shore, next to the monument to mark the Battle of the Falklands (a WW1 naval battle, not to be confused with any other similar-sounding conflict).

Now, there is a fair amount of rusting metal scattered around here, so little did we know at the time, that the sphere was actually a scale model of the Sun, and surrounding it were the planets, also to scale!  The scale is 1 to 1 billion (1:1,000,000,000).

Not only that, but the artist, Rob Yssel, had set out around Stanley a model of the Solar System, to the same scale!   Mercury is about 20 metres along the sea-front, with Venus, Earth (150metres) and Mars a few more hundred metres further.

The model of the Earth had a diameter of 1.28 centimetres  (a ball bearing).  The Sun's diameter is 139cm!  Jupiter's model has a diameter of 14.2cm, and is 778metres from the Sun. (In real life, 778 million kilometres!)

As in real life, the outer planets are a bit more difficult to get to!  However, armed with a invaluable leaflet from the local Tourist Office, I had a rough idea where to start looking.

War debris

On the back of the leaflet was a sketch map showing the location of the planets - dots on the horizon.  The grid references were supplied, but there was also a cunning feature of the Solar System sculpture walk - all the planets were in line of sight of the Sun.  So, even though Pluto was almost 6km (4 miles) away, its position could be seen from the Sun sculpture, and vice versa.

Jupiter, looking south to Stanley.
So, armed with the treasured leaflet, and accompanied by my trusty Nordic Walking poles (and trusting wife), I set off to look for the distant bodies of the Solar System.  I didn't know if I would find life there, so I packed a couple of home-made flapjacks in my rucksack....

We drove to the other end of the harbour, parked where Moody Brook runs into the sea, and set off for Saturn....

Saturn, overlooking Stanley.
Once I could see the lie of the land, I stayed by the shore and walked about 2kms until I was opposite the Sun Sculpture on the south shore, and sure enough, almost on the waterline, was the model of Jupiter.

Going by the rough map in the leaflet, the other planets were up on the ridge. so I turned away from the Sun and the sea, and started up the slope, climbing the 100 metres or so to Saturn and beyond. 


HISTORY  ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Wireless Ridge was the last physical feature to fall into British hands in the Falklands War, after the battles of Mt Tumbledown and Mt Longdon.   And there are remnants and memorials from the war along its length, as it was such a strategic spot, overlooking the harbour and town.  The hard quartzite stone ridges project vertically from the peat bogs, providing, in places, superb protection from enemy attack. 

3 Para (3rd Battalion, Parachute Regiment) took Mt Longdon on June 11/12 after heavy fighting,.  While they regrouped,  2 Para (who were successful at Goose Green- see previous post    for details  ), came through the lines and advanced to Wireless Ridge on June 13/14.  The two features are only about a mile apart, but the intensity of the fighting made for very slow progress (and most of the fighting was at night!).  The Argentine forces had virtually nowhere else to fall back to.

Para memorial Wireless Ridge

As I progressed along the broad, rocky ridge,  I could look across and back to Stanley and check if I could see the Sun.  Eventually, I found the distinctive shape of Saturn on its plinth.  6 down, 3 to go.

But, as with the real Solar System, the outer planets are far-flung, and it took "me" a while to find Uranus, however you want to pronounce it!   It was 2.87km from the "Sun"  (in a straight line), and 5.2cm in diameter.  It takes 84 years to go round the real Sun!

Eventually, with the assistance of my wife, (who had belatedly taken an interest in what I was up to, and who realised the quicker "I" found the planets, the quicker we could get off the windy ridge for a cup of coffee), the cry went up - "I can see Uranus from here!"  But she was cheating - using binoculars!  Then again, it was only 5cm in diameter!

I was now on a roll, and knew that Neptune was only about 1500 metres further along the ridge.  However, the many rocky outcrops made finding the small planet difficult.  Eventually, Neptune hove into view.  And what a view!  3 miles back to Stanley.


Heading for coffee....
Across the valley to the south, was Mount Tumbledown, where Pluto lay hidden.  Sadly, our interplanetary meanderings had taken longer than I had anticipated, so Pluto would have to wait till another day.

Gentoo penguin in Stanley

I've had complaints about the lack of penguins in this blog, so here is one I found about 100 yards from the centre of Stanley this week.   Gentoos are usually seen at remote spots, but this one seemed quite relaxed to be 20 yards from a busy road!   Many of the local penguins have now moulted and are heading off out to sea for the winter.  Gentoos feed on lobster krill which is found inshore and so they tend to be year-round residents.
Lady Elizabeth.  The sun setting behind Two Sisters in the distance. Wireless Ridge on the right.

Apart from the odd snow flurry, the weather has been pretty good this week.  Clear skies have meant we've  been lucky enough to see (the real) Venus and Jupiter shining brightly in the southern sky, with the full moon.  It's a different kind of thrill to actually find model planets dotted around the countryside, but it helps understand how huge the Solar System and Cosmos is.  Makes one feel small.....

Happy Easter, and hope you see the Moon and the stars where you are!



  1. Hi Peter

    I have my first group Nordic Walking session next weekend. If the group leader does not walk us around the solar system I'll suggest he has to up his game.

    Not sure Pluto is still regarded as a planet by the astronomers :-) Just a big rock.

    I'm enjoying your blog, keep it up.

    1. Hi Nick - don't try to go too far on your first outing :-). Off to look for Pluto...
      Left message on your blog. Looking for advice on blogs - backup, etc.

  2. My Very Easy Method Just Speeds Up Naming Planets !!!!
    Mercury Venus Earth Mars Jupiter Saturn Uranus Neptune Pluto
    (and in case you get your Ms mixed up - keep your MARS bar closer to you than poisonous mercury!)

    1. Don't confuse Mars with Uranus? Oo-er, missus....
      You don't need mnemonics when you can see all the planets and know what they look like!

  3. I so loved all the fascinating info in this post and really had to smile at the quote about the relaxed penquin despite being "20 yards from a busy road". The next posting being about the M25 made it all the more amusing!

  4. Thanks for the comments. And yes, "busy road" is a relative term. But, even in the Falklands, it is unusual to see penguins 50 yards from shops and pubs!

  5. Hi, Peter,
    Just wondered if you ever found Pluto? I just moved to Stanley and would like to meet you as my wife and I like to hike and get out when the wind isn't too strong!

    T.22389 if you have a chance!

    1. Later on Saturday, April 28...

      Inspired by your account, my wife and I clambered up Tumbledown Mountain and found Pluto!! It was quite a bit west of the Cross on the highest part of the chain, and would have been quite difficult to spot for the uninitiated. Great view of the whole Stanley area.

      What a great representation of the relative size of the Solar where would the nearest star be???

    2. Hi, Well Done!. Yes, it took me some time to find it, and I had a couple of clues which I will tell you about when we meet. I'll call tomorrow or Monday. You weren't near Two Sisters at all today? We saw 2 people in the distance.
      Someone told me how far the nearest star would be on that scale. It was at the Moon, I think. Basically a mind-boggling distance.

  6. Hi Leonard,
    Yes, we did find it, but it was quite tricky. Just going out the door to explore Two Sisters. Will catch you later, Peter

  7. Sorry we missed each other yesterday. I tried again today and left my cell number: 54691.

    We weren't near 2 sisters, but would like to find them sometime, perhaps with your help...


    1. Peter,

      Looks like we just missed you. Hope you have a nice holiday! Do you know who I could contact to find out about the Ramblers? I walked by myself yesterday as Linda is under the weather. It was beautiful!

      Do you have an email? Mine is

  8. Peter,

    Just got here myself and have been trying to find the planets without the help of the map. Wandered up and down the Moody Brook road trying to find Jupiter and Saturn, only to realise that they are on the other side! Very well done. Have to be for another day!

    Thanks for the excellent photos!

    1. Thanks foi the comments Sebastian. If you are now in the Stanley and want to explore the rest of the Solar System, and want a fellow-walker, let me know (although I won't be in town until after the 26th).