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Students Walk Across Campus to Map Out Solar System

To imagine the distance of the planets, and the large space that exists in between them, students ventured as far as Pennswood Village from Main Building during their excursion. (Photo by Katharine Sipio)

Students took a brisk walk across campus to map out the solar system in an exercise called “The Thousand-Yard Model,” or “The Earth as a Peppercorn.” The exercise is part of Carolyn Lyday’s curriculum each fall in her Cosmology religion course.

To imagine the distance of the planets, and the large space that exists in between them, students ventured as far as Pennswood Village from Main Building during their excursion. Labeled index cards were securely fastened with objects to represent the planets—the Earth (a peppercorn), the Sun (a ball), Saturn (a hazelnut), Neptune (a coffee bean)—and carefully placed on the ground during the walk of a thousand yards.

Steps were carefully counted as students paced between planets to scale the solar system, where one yard represented 3,600,000 miles. A thousand miles in this model equates to a light-year, which is about six trillion miles in reality.

“This class exercise was eye-opening. It gave me a different perspective, and made me realize how big the solar system really is compared to the world we know,” said Bella Miehle ’18. “Science focuses on the stars and planets, but it does not really discuss the parts of space that are filled with nothing—the parts that are filled with things that we do not even know about yet.”

The course is designed to study how the narratives of science and religion can work together to reveal and create deeper spiritual meanings. Each class begins with a poem, or contemplative reading, and a written journal reflection. Another practice in the course is for students to find their own wild place somewhere on campus, and to visit the same exact spot each week in solitude. Carolyn hopes that this meditative process will allow students to engage with the world around them in a more mindful way.

It is Carolyn’s aim to teach her students how to deepen their own spiritual practices through reimagining the cosmos, embracing a sense of awe, and understanding our responsibility to the planet.

“The universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects.” This quote by Thomas Berry, an ecotheologian studied in Carolyn’s cosmology class, encompasses these goals, and reflects what she strives to channel into her classroom and on campus. Science and religion can inform each other, and they do not have to be in conflict; both of them together can help create a new vision for our planet.

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