This fall, I will be riding my bike… to space.
Well, sort of– let me explain:
One weekend in early July, I went bike camping at Illinois Beach State Park, north of Chicago near the Wisconsin border. The ride up is lovely, and not too far– around 50 miles or so, mostly on community bike paths. As I rode through the towns to the north of the city, I wished I had my “I’m an Astronomer, Ask Me Anything!” signs that we use for #ScienceTrain, so that every time I took a break, I could do a pop-up space-themed Q&A. On my ride home a couple of days later, a fellow bike camper passed me headed in the opposite direction. I spotted the Maryland state flag on his water bottle and we got talking– turned out he was a high school chemistry teacher from Baltimore, passing through on a truly epic bike ride to Portland, OR.
As we parted ways, my mind was turning on how far he’d ridden, about distance and the nature of traveling long ways under your own person power, and the problem of traveling truly cosmic distances to explore space itself. Then something clicked: wouldn’t it be cool to pin a neighbor city as Andromeda, our nearest neighbor galaxy in space, and then map out distances to other destinations in space along the way?
Fast forward, and that’s exactly what’s happening: the week of September 18th, I and some of my fellow Adler Planetarium colleagues will be biking from Chicago to St. Louis, stopping in cities and towns along the way to talk with people about space, astronomy, and our place in the universe. We’ll also have fun demos on hand, many of them using familiar household items to bring our universe closer to home! If you want the full details, you can check out the info packet here.
Since space is really big, we’ll be using a special scale (known as a log scale) to map our distances between here and STL (scroll down for a bit more explanation about log scales; some astronomy-savvy readers may recognize it as based on the log map of the universe by Gott et al.) . Along the way, we’ll pass the moon, the planets and icy bodies of our solar system, stars, black holes, and venture beyond the Milky Way itself to reach our galactic neighbor. We’re partnering with schools and libraries along our way to host free community events in each town we stop in, and we couldn’t be more excited to meet you! No matter where you are, you can check out our planned pit stops, watch progress and stay up to date by checking the Galaxy Ride website and following the #AdlerGalaxyRide hashtag on Twitter. See you in space!