In Brief: My Love Affair with Modern Planetariums

By Norman Chan

They're the closest I'll get to traveling through the stars.

I've got cosmology on the mind this week. Not only has Fox's new Cosmos show debuted (it's pretty good!), but there was of course the big announcement on Monday of astrophysicists' confirmation of cosmic inflation theory. Erin did a lovely job explaining the concept in layman's terms, and you should listen to this episode of San Francisco public radio's Forum program with local astronomers and physics professors discussing the details of the report.

Stories like those do a great job communicating heady science concepts to non-scientists, but I'm not sure how effective they are in inspiring more interest in astronomy and cosmology. That's why I'm such a big fan of modern-day digital planetariums, like the Morrison Planetarium at the Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. I wrote about it for Maximum PC (PDF) when it first opened in 2009, and we've followed up with stories about the technologies that turn these domed rooms into universe simulators. You can even run that software at home. The current show at the Morrison Planetarium is Dark Universe, an exploration of the Big Bang and Dark Matter, narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson. It's a collaboration with the Hayden Planetarium at the ANHM, so you can watch it in New York as well. It's a fantastic space show that's also pretty audacious--it visualizes concepts that we not only can't see, but that astronomers are still figuring out for themselves.