Museum of Science re-opens Planetarium with special show

February 7, 2011

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The following information was taken from a press release from the Museum of Science

Do other planets like Earth exist?

That's the timeless question, asked by kids and parents alike, explored in "Undiscovered Worlds: The Search Beyond Our Sun", a show being unveiled Sunday (Feb. 13) in the newly transformed Charles Hayden Planetarium.

"Twenty years ago, finding planets outside our solar system was science fiction," said planetarium show producer Dani LeBlanc, who led the team that created the museum's 30-minute show.

But in 1995, scientists discovered 51 Pegasi, the first planet orbiting a star like Earth's sun. By the end of 2010, scientists knew of more than 500 of these so-called "exoplanets." NASA's historic announcement in early February that its Kepler telescope had discovered 1,235 planet candidates now means the number of confirmed exoplanets could more than double.

In telling this extraordinary story, the science museum will showcase what it says is the most technologically advanced digital theater in New England, including a state-of-the-art Zeiss Starmaster, DigitalSky 2 software, Sony projection system, and talented planetarium educators, animators, and technical experts.

Navigating a universe modeled on the latest scientific data, "Undiscovered Worlds" takes audiences to these exotic planets with stunningly rendered animation and lush orchestral music, exploiting the full dome's immersive environment. The mission: To investigate how these strange worlds are changing the way we understand planets and solar systems.

The show captures the excitement of the rapidly unfolding search for planets outside our solar system and invites audiences to join the hunt. Zooming away from our solar system, "Undiscovered Worlds" explores the difficulties of finding these new worlds, especially Earth-like ones, and some of the astounding first discoveries, including many of the most extreme exoplanets.

In one example, the audience will chase and then soar over a sensational visualization of the rocky surface of Corot 7b, a seething lava planet that orbits its star in just 20 Earth hours.

"Undiscovered Worlds" also flies audiences around Gliese 581, a four-planet solar system 20 light years away, to encounter a planet discovered in 2010 that could be one of the first potentially habitable exoplanets.

"Today, we're on the brink of finding out if planets like ours are rare or common and what that means for understanding our place in the universe," show producer LeBlanc said. "Either discovery is significant, and potentially revolutionary. If the Earth is unique, that's another important reason for taking good care of it. If there are billions of planets like ours, that's absolutely mind-blowing. We hope that audiences will leave the Museum full of wonder and an enlightened sense of their place in the universe."

Tickets are $10 for adults, $9 for seniors;, and $8 for children ages 3 to 11. Planetarium show schedules and details are available at the Museum of Science website. For more information, call 617-723-2500, or (TTY) 617-589-0417.

Other highlights:

• This spring, the museum launches Night Lights, an evening entertainment series that will feature live performances under the star-filled dome and the next generation of laser shows. A schedule of events is available at the planetarium website.

• The planetarium's centerpiece is its state-of-the-art Zeiss Starmaster, one of only two in the United States and the only one on the East Coast. This custom-built optics system recreates a stunningly realistic night sky, its fiber optics enhancing the size and infinitely adjustable brightness of up to 9,100 stars.

• For the first time, a new scintillation device generates star flickering as natural as the real thing. In another first, the Starmaster can go forward and back 10,000 years in seconds via computer-controlled independent planet projectors. Unlike the old two-ton Zeiss Mark VI, the new rotating star simulator is elegantly compact, standing eight and a half feet tall, its lens-covered starball 30 inches in diameter.

• The Sky-Skan Definiti System powered by DigitalSky 2 software and Sony SXRD 4K Digital Video Projectors (4K is pixel resolution) and an extensive sky database enable the creation of spectacular original programming.

• The new projection and animation technology not only can simulate space travel, but also could explore global climate change. In addition, using an online databank, planetarium staff can import and display proteins including DNA strands, while an earth and climate database could show the jet stream or volcanic activity.

• Planetaria traditionally simulate the 3-dimensional sky from any location on Earth in the past or future, accurately reproducing apparent motions and cycles of the sky in time-lapse fashion. But the new DigitalSky 2 software enables planetarium visitors to peer back at Earth as only astronauts have, then fly out of the Milky Way past other galaxies, immersed in views of anywhere in the known universe modeled on the latest scientific data from satellites and observatories. The Planetarium can also show visually difficult concepts like phases of the moon and how eclipses work as viewed from space.

• Museum educators, poised at the 10-foot-wide control console - banks of knobs and faders, keyboards and monitors at their fingertips - orchestrate the entire experience, using the DigitalSky 2 software, making the Starmaster turn and spin, and adjusting lights, audio, and spotlights.

• With powerful new full-dome video and audio systems, concentric seating for 209 people, and 40 removable seats, the theater offers a transformative venue for musical performances, live theater, and other evening entertainment, as well as audience interactivity and intimacy.

• Enhanced visitor amenities include advanced climate control and custom seats angled to give visitors the sensation of takeoff with optimal views and comfort.

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