CU Boulder engineering students unveil scaled, working solar system model

Unveiling of the "grand orrery" held Monday

BOULDER, Colo. - A scaled, working model of the solar system built by engineering students at the University of Colorado Boulder will be officially unveiled Monday.

The unveiling and dedication of the model, called a “grand orrery,” will be held at 3 p.m. at Andrews Hall at CU Boulder, located on Kittredge Loop Road southeast of Fiske Planetarium. The event is free and open to the public.

A grand orrery is a mechanical planetary system that illustrates the relative positions and motions of both the inner and outer planets, according to the university.

The system, which was designed and built by CU-Boulder students, is 9 feet in diameter and is driven by a set of brass gears.

“This community did so much for me, and it feels great to leave something behind,” said creator Eitan Cher, in a quote provided by the university.

Cher led the team of 11 students in creating the grand orrery.

Scot Douglas, director of the Engineering Honors Program and faculty-in-residence at Andrews Hall, first approached Cher in the fall of 2011 to ask him to oversee a team of engineering students in developing the model.

“The engineering students in Andrews are full of talent, passion and imagination, and I’m always looking for creative ways for them to express this,” Douglass said in a quote provided by CU Boulder. “Education at its best transcends the classroom, beyond the calculus of credits and degrees, to living out what one wants to be educated for.”

According to the university, Cher spent hundreds of hours on the project.

“I’m really pleased with how it came out. I feel a real connection with it,” Cher said.

The orrery was designed so that the orbiting speeds of each planet are accurate in relation to one another, but they are scaled up so that the motion of the planets can be enjoyed by a casual observer, he explained. Mercury will orbit the sun in exactly one hour, while Pluto’s orbit will take 43 days.

“After much debate, we decided to include Pluto, if only for sentimental reasons,” Cher said.

Students Fiona Pigott, Christopher Miller, D. J. Sutton, Casey Casias, Rianne Campbell, Christina Bonfanti, David Rappaport, Alex Demarais, P. J. Russell and Bonnie Pav also contributed to the project.

“The Andrews orrery showcases the great potential of the residential academic program model when academics, residential life and facilities management work and, in this case, play together,” said Douglass in quote provided by CU Boulder.