Visiting the Planetarium

Planetariums are amazing places. There is nothing as glorious as being a kid on a field trip to a planetarium and seeing that uncannily beautiful recreation of the night sky for the first time.

In honor of a friend’s birthday this past Sunday, a few friends and I visited the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History. We dutifully purchased our planetarium tickets (separate from admission price) and rode the elevator up to its darkened antechamber to watch swirling stars on TV monitors of as we waited. There was some discussion as to the best place to sit—near the middle or near one side?— but upon entering the seating area we struck a compromise and sat neither too close to the center nor near the back.

The lights dimmed, went out, and then the god-like disembodied voice of Whoopi Goldberg guided us on a visually stunning tour of the cosmos. The planetarium show titled Journey to the Stars was beautifully animated, particularly images of the sun’s solar wind and also the gaseous clouds that cradle newborn stars. But no matter how stunning the show, no planetarium display can duplicate the sense of wonder and joy that I experienced at my first planetarium watching a show based on Charles and Ray Eames’ Powers of Ten. I clearly recall the moment we moved from the furthest reaches of the universe into a droplet of water and watched atoms whizzing around. Ooo! Thinking about it is giving me chills.

But on Sunday, I exited the Hayden Planetarium impressed by the majesty of the universe but without any additional scientific knowledge. It wasn’t that the movie was uninformative, just that I was so busy being amazed I didn’t retain any of the more complex concepts. But Whoopi Goldberg was great. We could all use more Whoopi in our lives.

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