Exoplanet X

Trails: The snow is quite pretty, but not deep enough for grooming.Exoplanet X

No.  The big blue ball is not a super-sized Christmas ornament. The sphere at the gate into Crossroads’ Astronomy Campus is a sculpture, with  working name of  “Exoplanet X with Two Moons”. And now that it is mounted at the crossroads of Utah Street and the aptly named Sky Gazer Trail (across from Cove Road) , people visiting the Stonecipher Astronomy Center and the Leif Everson Observatory will have no trouble finding the gate.
Apparently “finding the gate” has been a problem for novice sky observers, but lighting the Utah Street Entrance would defeat the purpose of having a spot with a reasonably dark sky. (We still have to contend with the ever-increasing “city glow” of Sturgeon Bay. )
The idea of placing a sculpture at the gate has been around since Crossroads completed its Master Plan in 2008. But a sculpture of what? A rocket? A star? The Door Peninsula Astronomical Society logo?
With encouragement (prodding?) from Ray Stonecipher, the DPAS President Dave Udell  arrived at  the idea and design for creating a Exoplanet. 
Quick tutorial in astronomical vocabulary:  A planet, as defined by International Astronomical Union in 2006, is a celestial object that orbits our Sun and has sufficient mass to be round. (It’s a gravity thing.)
After those two conditions, the definition becomes highly controversial, excluding Pluto from planet status and using, as its criteria, conditions about which many astronomers do not  agree. FYI: if…  when… IAU revises the definition, Pluto almost certainly will remain excluded. But everyone pretty much goes along defining planets as orbiting the Sun and  being round.
But  the definition says to be a planet, the object must orbit OUR  Sun. A quick check of the Kepler Space Telescope website reveals  that, as of this writing, there are  995 confirmed planets orbiting stars other than our Sun. (The website has a scoreboard-like box which keeps track of planet candidates and confirmed planets. It keeps changing, sort of like a “hamburgers  sold” sign.
To distinguish the planets which orbit other stars, stellar remnants, and brown dwarfs from our eight Sun-orbiting planets, we call them Exoplanets.
Another tradition in the astronomical community  is to call an orbiting, round celestial object   “whose existence has been hypothesized but not confirmed”  Planet X.  Back when scientists were predicting the existence of Pluto, it went by that name.
So, because the blue sphere does not represent one of the planets orbiting our Sun, it is an Exoplanet.  And because its existence has not been confirmed,  it is named X.  Apparently, our Exoplanet X  has two moons.
The sphere was formed and welded by Colt Knutson.  and with the assistance of Mike Egan and Jim Maki, cleaned. It then had its “body work” done by Eric Mack. The parts–planet, rings, and moons— were assembled and a base rock  drilled.  On a Sunday morning last month, Jim Maki, Ray Stonecipher and Dave Udell mounted the installation with appropriate landscaping.
Ski season started last week at Crossroads, but conditions deteriorated rather quickly. The forecasts aren’t promising, but when it comes to snow, predictions can be oh, so wrong.  So watch this website   for current trails conditions. Once the snow is adequate, our trails will be groomed and we will start our Ski- For- Free program. Understand that our trails are always free and open to the public.
However, Door County Silent Sports (www.doorcountysilentsports.org) has teamed up with Friends of Crossroads to provide  an introduction to cross-country skiing, to free ski equipment, easy access to groomed trails …. all to promote a healthy lifelong dedication to  environmentally friendly winter outdoor recreation.
Crossroads has an assortment  of ski and snowshoe equipment,  ranging in sizes that could fit a 3 year old to large adult .  Just come to the  Collins Learning Center Lower Level  and get fitted by one of our trained volunteers.  With a few pointers on how to begin, you and your friends can head out our groomed ski or hiking trails.  When you have finished, return  your equipment, grab a cup of hot chocolate, and warm up by the upstairs fire. The ski loan program will be offered Thursday, Saturday, and Sundays from 1:00-3:30 .
Crossroads is a donor-supported preserve welcoming learners of all ages to programs in science, history and the environment. The Collins Learning Center, located at 2041 Michigan, is open daily 2:00-4:30. Trails are free and open to the public. Ski Trails are reserved FOR SKIERS ONLY. Hikers are asked to use designated hiking trails.
Wednesday, December 10
6:00 Training for Ski for Free Volunteers
Members of Silent Sports are collaborating with Friends of Crossroads to introduce the community to healthy winter outdoor recreation and they are looking for volunteers.  Those interested  are invited to participate  in  hands-on training on fitting skis and snowshoes. Volunteers will be given  information for providing novice skiers tips for success on Crossroad’s five mile trail system.  Say you’ll participate in this volunteer training by calling Crossroads at  920-746-5895.  
 Saturday, December 13
 1:00 Hike to the Evergreen Forest
Join the naturalist for a one hour hike to the evergreen forests of Crossroads to learn some of ways trees are adapted to surviving  the season we call winter.  Meet at the Collins Learning Center. Free and open to the public.


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