Coonabarabran: The world’s largest solar system drive

A post over on Facebook by a friend of mine in New South Wales reminded me that I wanted to spotlight this experience. I mentioned it in a Livejournal entry a few years back, but it deserves some exposure of its own. All photos are mine and ©2010-2012 Old Wolf Enterprises unless otherwise noted.

High in the Warrumbungle Mountains near Coonabarabran, NSW, sits the Siding Spring Observatory (SSO), Australia’s premier optical and infrared observatory.

Home of the Anglo-Australian Telescope, among others, this observatory is a delight to visit in and of itself.

Anglo-Australian Telescope

Panorama of the Warrumbungle Mountains from the Observatory

Central core cut from the telescope’s primary mirror before polishing and reflective coating was applied

In addition, in an effort to boost tourism, the observatory created the world’s largest solar system drive. There are five beginning points,

  1. Dubbo
  2. 6km south of Birriwa (north of Gulgong)
  3. Merriwa
  4. Tamworth
  5. Bellata (south of Moree)

Route overview

All the drives end at the Siding Spring observatory; since I was at the observatory already and I have a friend in Dubbo whom I wanted to visit, I began here and did the drive backwards.

Here is the itinerary:

Object Location Distance (km) Time
The Sun Siding Spring Observatory 0 0
Mercury Observatory Road, west of Coonabarabran 1.2 1 min
Venus Observatory Road, west of Coonabarabran 1.9 2 mins
Earth Observatory Road, west of Coonabarabran 4.1 3 mins
Mars Timor Road, west of Coonabarabran 5.5 5 mins
Jupiter Timor Road, west of Coonabarabran 21.5 20 mins
Saturn Camkeena Rest Area, Newell Hwy 40 40 mins
Uranus Tooraweenah Rest Area, Newell Hwy 79 70 mins
Neptune Gilgandra Cooee Heritage Centre, Newell Hwy 119 1.5 hours
Pluto Dubbo Visitor Centre, Newell Hwy 190 2.25 hours

The observatory dome, representing the sun at 1:38,000,000 scale. All other placards on the drive are accurate (in relative terms) with regard to distance and size. For reference, traveling in your car at 100km/hr along the Solar System Drive, you’d be “virtually” hurtling through space at a million kilometers per second – more than three times faster than the speed of light.

I missed Mars, this was taken by another traveler.

Missed Uranus and Neptune;  this image, along with the one below, was found at A Snail’s Eye View.

The drive ended at the Dubbo Visitor’s Center, at which a representation of Pluto is located. Please notice: Pluto.

It is a scientific fact that Pluto and its moon Charon were most likely Kuiper Belt objects captured by the sun, and probably did not coalesce out of the original accretion disk. But as far as I’m concerned,

This drive was one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had. I’d love to go back and do the other routes, just to see the scenery.

Australia for the win!

The Old Wolf has Spoken.