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Falmouth Students and teachers in front of NEFSC Observery Training Facility
Falmouth High School physics teacher Tom Messner (far left) and math teacher Patricia Bourgeault (far right) with students in front of the NEFSC's Observer Training Facility at Falmouth Technology Park.
Photo by Mary Romero, NOAA Fisheries Service

NEFSC’s Observer Training Facility IS Out of this World!

In fact, it is Saturn, the sixth planet from the sun. At least it is in terms of a Falmouth High School solar system model project. The sun is in the Falmouth High School Science Gallery and the planets are arrayed to scale around it at various locations around town. A poster marks the spot, with “Saturn” currently on display in the front entrance lobby of the Observer Training Facility in the Falmouth Technology Park.

Students in Falmouth High School’s integrated physics–trigonometry team class this past spring got a first-hand appreciation for the size of our solar system and just how big (or small) the planets really are when displayed to scale.

students working on Saturn project
Falmouth High School students responsible for Saturn, the sixth planet from the sun and second largest planet, pose with their poster in the front entrance lobby at the Observer Facility.
Photo by Mary Romero, NOAA Fisheries Service

The hands-on project was organized by FHS physics teacher Tom Messner, with funding from the Falmouth Education Foundation. Students and the public have gained an appreciation of the vast distances within our solar system and the relative size of the planets within the solar system, something that doesn’t come across in textbooks or in television programs. 

Students calculated the scaled-down size of each planet and its distance from the Sun, then put a picture of the planet and some basic information about the planet on a wall poster they cut out of plywood, then placed them throughout town. In the model, one inch represents 10,000 miles.

Saturn is the sixth planet from the sun with an actual distance from the Sun of 886,738,000 miles and a diameter of 72,355 miles. Staff members and visitors to the NOAA Fisheries facility in Falmouth Technology Park can find a more modest sized planet (pictured). Saturn is scaled to 1.35 miles or 7,133 feet from the Sun, with a scaled diameter of 7.0 inches. The Sun’s actual diameter is 865,000 miles; its scaled diameter is 84.5 inches, or seven feet.

Messner said this project is something he always wanted to do since textbooks showing the entire solar system are not to scale and give a misleading impression of the planet’s comparable sizes and distances from each other. By locating the posters and information about the planets throughout town, the teacher hopes the public will take time to find the planets, learn something and have fun in the process.

To learn more about the location of the other planets in Falmouth, go to: and look under Special Projects for the Integrated Physics-Trigonometry Team Course’s Solar System Model.

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