New Space Show At
The Rose Center for Earth and Space
American Museum of Natural History
Central Park West at 79th Street
New York, NY 10024
Rose Center Press: email@example.com
Roberta E. Zlokower and Robert Abrams
March 15, 2006
(See a Review of Jazz at The Rose Center)
At a media breakfast and press program at American Museum of Natural History, followed by the début screening of Cosmic Collisions, the new space show at The Rose Center for Earth and Space, an overflow crowd of international media were welcomed by Gary Zarr, Senior VP for Communications and Development, followed by President Ellen Futter’s remarks. Richard Fisher of NASA, which collaborates with the Museum, was then followed by Neil Tyson, Director of the Rose Center (AKA Hayden Planetarium), and Michael Shara, Curator of the Museum’s Astrophysics Department and Curator of Cosmic Collisions then invited the media to the show in the Hayden Sphere, one of the world’s largest space simulators.
During the various remarks, we were told about the rapid growth of the Planetarium, since the dynamically designed Rose Center was completed six years ago. Dr. Tyson remarked that the new planetarium has attracted as many visitors in the past six years as the old planetarium attracted in the fifty years before that. The Hayden Sphere weighs four million pounds and measures 87 feet in diameter, and there are two theaters within the sphere. We were led to the 429-seat Space Theater, an enormous circular configuration, in which one is centered in a virtual universe. Cosmic Collisions is narrated by actor, director, producer Robert Redford. The theme of this twenty-minute space show is the way in which our solar system of planets, sun, asteroids, stars, has repeatedly re-configured itself and how the earth has been and will be affected by planetary impacts, explosions on the sun, and potential collisions between a magnitude of space particles. The Denver Museum of Nature and Science, GOTO, Inc., Tokyo, Japan, and the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum, China, all collaborated to create Cosmic Collisions.
The actual space show experience was quite exciting, with the usual planetarium darkness and visual effects that make the solar system seem to fall onto the audience with new dramatic music (by Brazilian pianist, Marcelo Zarvos, and film composer, Robert Miller). Stephanie Abrams, documentary writer and director, wrote Mr. Redford’s script, along with Louise Gikow. The Executive Producer is Anthony Braun, assisted by engineer, Benjy Bernhardt. The inherent drama and dimension of the theater-wide, ever-changing and ever-moving screen was mesmerizing. The depiction of the one-month brief birth of our moon was especially fascinating to watch.
The show was quite impressive because of its realism. Rather than being an artist’s rendering, the images were generated based on actual data, such as the positions of stars in the Milky Way, or the predicted movements of stars within a globular cluster which was calculated using a special purpose processor known as the GRAPE 6. The creators of Cosmic Collisions had a wealth of material they could included. They erred on the conservative side by only including information they were very confident in. Nonetheless, they still managed to pack in a lot of information.
The theme of cosmic collisions was tied together by time and scale. These range from the very small, such as ionized particles from the solar wind being deflected by Earth’s magnetic field (if the field wasn’t there the solar wind would strip much of Earth’s atmosphere away – small can still be powerful), to the very large, such as the impending collision of the Milky Way with the Andromeda Galaxy (don’t worry – it won’t happen for several billion years, and even then most of the stars will slide past each other as the galaxies combine). The show included an impressive simulation of this mixing that progressed 40 million years for every second of screen time.
They expect the content in the show to have a lifetime of 5 to 10 years before scientific advances force them to rethink what is presented. There was some speculation in the show, though. For instance, they talked about how people might be able to use the small amount of gravity from a large space ship to alter the course of an asteroid headed towards Earth. They challenged the audience to come up with new solutions to the problems caused by cosmic collisions. Perhaps some five-year old in the audience eventually will.
Following the space show début, the audience broke into groups for a Behind-The-Scenes Tour of the Museum’s Department of Astrophysics. Ben Oppenheimer, Assistant Curator, is an impassioned speaker and dedicated on the highest professional level to his craft, the study of new, orbiting planets. Dr. Oppenheimer explained the nature of much the lab’s equipment and devices in user-friendly terms.
It was a special privilege to be in his lab. Normally one has to wear a clean suit to keep dust out of the lab. Dr. Oppenheimer develops special instruments that filter out the light from the star to reveal the image of a planet. In March 2004, Dr. Oppenheimer deployed the world's most sensitive coronagraph at the AEOS Telescope in Maui. He designed and built this coronagraph in his AMNH lab. He hopes to be able to see the surface features of exo-solar planets within his lifetime.
For current and upcoming listings at American Museum of Natural History, and to purchase tickets to Cosmic Collisions, visit www.amnh.org.
Streams of charged particles from the fiery surface of the Sun-the solar wind-race towards the Earth at over a million miles an hour in this image taken by NASA satellites.
Photo courtesy of American Museum of Natural History/NASA
Graphic representation shows how most of the ionized particles from the solar wind are deflected off the protective cocoon of the Earth's magnetic field.
Photo courtesy of American Museum of Natural History/NASA