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Full guide to the Our Place in Space solar system art trail in Cambridge - including map, events and a chance to meet a NASA astronaut

Our Place in Space, a family-friendly, 8.5km sculpture trail of the solar system, is launched on Saturday, July 30, in Cambridge with a weekend of free, family events.

Our Place in Space which starts on Midsummer Common. Artist Oliver Jeffers. Picture: Keith Heppell
Our Place in Space which starts on Midsummer Common. Artist Oliver Jeffers. Picture: Keith Heppell

Designed by artist Oliver Jeffers, with astrophysicist Professor Stephen Smartt and a creative team led by the Nerve Centre, the installation - a combination of art and science - runs from Midsummer Common along the River Cam to Cow Hollow Wood in Waterbeach.

The trail, which was previously on display in Northern Ireland, lasts until August 29 and features scale models of our solar system’s planets and the Sun, recreated as contemporary art sculptures – an arch houses each planet with an arrow and its name as a giant illuminated sign above it.

Our Place in Space - the Earth sculpture
Our Place in Space - the Earth sculpture

Local partners helping to bring Our Place in Space to Cambridge include the University of Cambridge, Cambridge City Council, Cam Conservators, and the Woodland Trust.

Our Place in Space, part of Unboxed: Creativity in the UK, invites participants to consider how we might better share and protect our planet in future and what the difference is between ‘us’ and ‘them’.

The map

What’s on

Saturday, July 30 – Launch weekend

Welcome the Our Place in Space sculpture trail to Cambridge at an extravaganza of talks, art, activities, music and food. Meet real-life NASA astronaut Kayla Barron - a graduate of Peterhouse at the University of Cambridge - and enjoy live music from Waterbeach Brass, take part in a book signing with Oliver Jeffers, get crafty with SunSpaceArt... and much more!

Sunday, July 31 – Launch Weekend

A second day extravaganza of talks, art, activities, music and food. Enjoy an interactive space science show with Mark Langtry, explore the sounds of space, get crafty with SunSpaceArt, join in a special edition of Even You Song...and much more!

August 6-7 - Morning yoga on Midsummer Common

Jump in your space shuttle and head towards Mercury to join a yoga class that will help restore your body and mind with Karin Eklund.

August 6 – Ice from Above at the Polar Museum

Join the team at The Polar Museum and help to map the coldest places on planet Earth with a giant floor map.

Satellites circle our planet, remotely mapping important things about the world using different kinds of light. How deep are the lakes? How thick is the ice? Are the forests getting smaller? Drop-in and discover how seeing the polar regions from above can unlock their secrets.

August 8-12 - Minecraft and Coding Sessions

Free digital workshops will see you create your own space vehicle or design a game inspired by the iconic Space Invaders arcade game.

August 13 – Meteors on Midsummer - Silent Disco Skygazing

Taking place on Midsummer Common during the peak of the Perseid meteor shower, this unique event will invite you to lie back and open your eyes and ears to the wonder of the sky. Featuring immersive soundtracks by Sounds of Space and Cambridge-based artist Sarah Wood, this evening of silent disco skygazing will awaken your senses.

August 14 and August 21 - Storytelling at the Sun

Join expert storyteller Marion Leeper who will share folktales and legends about the Sun from cultures around the world. Joining her will be illustrator Tonka Uzu who will help you get creative inspired by Marion's stories.

August 28 – Picnic at the Planets, Closing Event

Help bid farewell to the Our Place in Space sculpture trail with a Picnic at the Planets. Enjoy hands-on creative STEAM activities, guided tours of the trail, games from Living Sport, live music by the Lightwaves, Hunt and Darton’s interactive 'Great Planetary Make-Off', make your own rocket with the CHOAS science team or have a go on one of the Outspoken Smoothie Bikes to DIY your own free smoothie.

The people behind the trail

Oliver Jeffers is a Northern Irish artist, illustrator and writer behind the sculpture trail.

He told the Cambridge Independent: “It’s a scale model of the solar system but rather than Earth’s place in our solar system, it’s more humanity’s place - so it’s a way of looking at the human story from a distance and working with the astrophysicist Professor Stephen Smartt, who’s made all the calculations to within a millimetre.”

Oliver reveals that the idea for the project has been in his head “for years” and that it was “about two and a half years in-the-making”.

The trail was in Derry in April and then moved to Divis, a hilly area north-west of Belfast, providing impressive views of the Northern Irish capital.

“Then here, and then where it goes to next there’s a couple of different options,” says Oliver. “But it’ll eventually end up back in Northern Ireland.”

On top of the world, Jenny Hunt from Hunt & Darton. Picture: Keith Heppell
On top of the world, Jenny Hunt from Hunt & Darton. Picture: Keith Heppell

So why Cambridge? Professor Stephen Smartt interjects: “So Unboxed didn’t have any of their projects in East Anglia and they said because we were planning to move it within Northern Ireland, ‘Could you take this here and do you have connections?’

“I work in the School of Maths and Physics at Queen’s [University, Belfast] and I used to work at the Institute of Astronomy [University of Cambridge] here so I phoned them up and said, ‘We want some local support, local contacts’.

“They said, ‘Yes, we’ve got contacts at the council’ and so it came from those local connections, plus something missing in the whole Unboxed festival - there wasn’t anything in this area of East Anglia. And because this is movable, they thought, ‘What about bringing it here?’”

The pair note that the trail was “hugely popular” in their native Northern Ireland. “In Belfast we had it on the mountain overlooking Belfast,” explains Stephen. “You have to make an effort to get up there, but whenever I was up it was full. And it wasn’t just children - many people walking were adults.”

Prof Smartt adds: “One of the other things I think is kids when they do it, they just ask a lot of questions and that’s what we want. We’re trying not to tell them too much but a good piece of art forces you to ask questions, which is what this does.”

Read more: Fun for the summer as new Book Bench Art Trail comes to Cambridge, Solar system sculpture trail to open in Cambridge]

Try out the app

The trail is accompanied by the Our Place in Space augmented reality app, available on Apple and Android, which allows users across the world to take a walk through the solar system, experiencing the planets in augmented reality and considering 10,000 years of human history on Earth.

Stephen Smartt, professor of astrophysics at Queen’s University Belfast. Picture: Keith Heppell
Stephen Smartt, professor of astrophysics at Queen’s University Belfast. Picture: Keith Heppell

Users are invited to collect space souvenirs, including characters from the world of Oliver Jeffers, as well as launching a personalised star into space. There will be a number of events taking place at the site over the coming weeks, including a talk from Oliver Jeffers (who will also be signing books), Professor Stephen Smartt, and NASA astronaut Kayla Barron tomorrow (Saturday, July 30).

Find out more

You can find out more at ourplaceinspace.earth/trail/cambridge.

Our Place in Space is one of 10 major creative projects commissioned as part of a celebration of creativity taking place across the UK this year. For more information, visit unboxed2022.uk.

Unboxed: Creativity in the UK is funded and supported by the four governments of the UK and is commissioned and delivered in partnership with Belfast City Council, Creative Wales and EventScotland.

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