A solar system model may soon stretch across New Milford to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Galileo's telescope that unveiled a heavenly mystery.

Like an exuberant school boy, amateur astronomer Bob Lambert of Brookfield is delighted the John J. McCarthy observatory intends to pursue such a concept.

Grinning ear to ear, the retired IBM engineer said he can imagine students traveling from spot to spot around town tracking the planets and returning to the observatory for a badge or certificate that would declare them a "solar explorer.''

Mr. Lambert and some of his fellow observatory volunteers recently unveiled their plans to celebrate the anniversary of Galileo's first pointing of a telescope into the heavens.

The estimated $30,000 project would include building a scale solar system model that would stretch to schools and parks across town.

The other part of the plan would be to build "Galileo's Garden'' on the observatory grounds, located at the south end of the New Milford High School campus.

The garden, a terraced and landscaped area adjacent to the sky deck, would feature a large, working sundial that would incorporate an exact replica of Galileo's telescope pointing at the North Star.

"It will be an educational eye-opener,'' said observatory president Monty Robson of the proposed project. "When people realize the scale (of the solar system) it will be an unbelievable revelation.''

Preliminary plans call for building a scale solar system model, starting with the six-foot sun at the observatory.

The sun would then be surrounded by smaller sculptures with sign posts of the terrestrial planets -- Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. The other planets -- Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto and the outer solar system -- would be arranged on other school and town properties as far as Northville Elementary School more than five miles away.

Neptune is proposed for somewhere in the downtown, either the village green or another such property in that area, observatory leaders stated.

"Galileo's Garden,'' is expected to be a place where solar explorers, both young and old, would be able to use the sun dial for actual scientific experiments.

"This will be a working sundial; a great learning tool where students are able to use the sun to tell time very precisely,'' Mr. Lambert said.

The projected size is about eight feet tall with a five-foot width, he said.

"It will be big enough to be impressive,'' he enthused.

The actual garden area is to be designed as an "oasis'' where parents could enjoy some solitude while waiting for students' sports practice to finish, or savor an evening of stargazing, Mr. Robson and Mr. Lambert agreed.

'"The idea is to offer a restful place where people can come and commune with the heavens a bit,'' said Mr. Lambert, who noted the garden would also offer a kiosk or illuminated sign to highlight Galileo's "spectacular breakthrough in science.''

As for the scale solar model, the two volunteers said this project would be bound to catch the attention of not only locals but people across the region, and astronomy-loving tourists from all over the nation.

There are only 30 or 40 such scale models in the United States, said Mr. Robson, a New Milford resident.

Board of Education Facilities Committee chairman Thomas McSherry said he is impressed by the observatory leaders' ambitious plans.

"This is another great thing the people at the observatory are doing,'' Mr. McSherry said.

Mr. Robson presented the plans to the facilities committee and Mayor Pat Murphy last week.

"I'm absolutely thrilled,'' said school board member Wendy Faulenbach , who is also on the observatory board.

This town is privileged to have a state-of-the-art, volunteer-operated and funded observatory that collects scientific data and encourages children at a young age to wonder and consider the universe around them, Mrs. Faulenbach said.

For benefactor and volunteer leader Bob McCarthy, the proposed additions are just the latest in what for him has been a "spectacular ride.''

"I think it shows how a band of dedicated volunteers can start from a telescope on the green," Mr. McCarthy said, "to becoming a world-class observatory in New Milford, Connecticut that month in and month out offers hands-on activities to the public so they can participate in very exciting science."