THE SOUTH Somerset Astronomical Society has placed a marker along the Taunton-Bridgwater Canal’s Solar Walk.

Last seen in 1986, Halley’s Comet will next blaze across our skies in July 2061.

In between those years it will have travelled to the furthest reaches of our Solar System before beginning its 38-year journey back toward the Sun.

On Saturday, December 9 the comet made famous by Edmund Halley reached the furthest point in its orbit.

This is the start of a unique 38-year project, as the Astronomy Society aims to move this Marker, representing Halley, down the canal marking its progress through the Solar System as it heads back towards our skies.

The Solar Walk is a scale model of the Solar System created by Pip Youngman in 1997.

It has the Sun placed at Maunsel Lock and all the Planets stretching along the canal in both directions, at positions that represent their relative distance from the Sun on a scale of 1 mm along the canal representing 530km in space.

A size 6 shoe represents a distance of 130,000km.

The idea to include Halley in the Solar Walk was first conceived by the chair of the astronomy society, Nick O’Donnell.

A physics teacher for the last 20 years at a local school in Taunton, he is a keen astronomer and passionate about promoting astronomy and science to the wider public.

Asked when he first thought of this project he said: “I was walking down the canal with my Son, back in Easter 2021 and NASA’s Perseverance mission had recently landed on Mars.

“As we passed Mars along the canal, we talked about this latest mission and I remarked that the information on the plaque was really very limited.

“I then began to think about how we could make the Solar Walk more interactive and allow people passing to gain access to better and more up-to-date information about the Solar System and this became the foundation of the project.”

“On that same walk, I also realized that Halley’s Comet – last seen in 1986 – must be getting quite close to the furthest point in its orbit and that there was the opportunity to make the Solar Model more dynamic.”

With the help of scientists at NASA, who provided the information that made it possible to chart Halley’s exact position over the next 38 years to its closest point – the SSAS calculated precisely its positions along the Canal over this same time period.

“Halley, or its astronomical name 1P/Halley, is the most famous comet in history. It appears on the Bayeux tapestry; having passed the Earth months before the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

“There are also written historical accounts of each of its visits going back 2500 years and its return was the first astronomical event to be predicted, confirming Newton’s theory of Gravitation.”

With grants from Taunton Town Council, Monkton Parish Council, and North Petherton Town Council, the Society is now able to begin the project of upgrading the Solar Walk Canal, which began as it placed Halley in its first position along the canal.

In co-operation with the River & Canal Trust, it will now begin the process of upgrading all the planets along the canal, adding QR codes and interpretation boards to both advertise and promote the walk as an attraction.

As one of the society members said “With Pluto at the Brewhouse, the next planet, Neptune, is not until you get to the bridge at Venture Way.

“The path in between is quite well travelled by both residents and visitors, but many people are probably unaware that the model is out there - and that is something we want to change.

"We hope that this project and the work we do as a society, will generate more interest in Pip’s original work and encourage many people to visit and walk along the canal.”

To save people from walking the entire length of the Canal, the new plinth representing Halley’s comet can be found along the canal between the Obridge and the Children’s Wood in Taunton.