Observations

Nick meets Charles Darwin at the planetarium

Darwin's study

Darwin’s study as depicted in the Natural Selection planetarium show. Image and copyright Mirage3D ©, all rights reserved

Last weekend (14 & 15 May 2011) I attended part of the Australian Planetarium Society’s annual meeting at the Melbourne Planetarium. A variety of planetarium shows were presented in the well-equipped planetarium theatre. Although I had seen numerous such shows in the past, I was blown away by the quality of what is now available and how spectacular they look projected onto the large curved dome overhead. The show that impressed me most is Natural Selection: Darwin’s Myster of Mysteries by Mirage3D, a company based at The Hague in The Netherlands.

The Beagle

The Beagle as depicted in the Natural Selection planetarium show. Image and copyright Mirage3D ©, all rights reserved

Natural Selection begins flying over cliffs and a castle (probably the Cliffs of Dover and Dover Castle) and then descends to a country lane with a horse and rider who gives us a cheerful ‘good morning’ as we fly past. We reach a country house and enter into a study where we are greeted by an elderly Charles Darwin who seems most pleased to see us. He starts telling us about his life’s work on evolution that began with his voyage as a young man on the ship The Beagle. Soon we are aboard on the ship and joining a much younger Darwin as he is beginning on the adventurous voyage that led to his ideas. We are told in the informative commentary that one of the main triggers for these ideas was when locals pointed out the differences between otherwise similar birds and other animals on nearby, but isolated islands.

Galagapos

Tortoises on the Galápagos Islands as depicted in the Natural Selection planetarium show. Image and copyright Mirage3D ©, all rights reserved

If you can, go and see Natural Selection for it is both most impressive and educational. You can download the whole show in HD for a flatscreen on the Mirage3D website. Of course, to get the full impact you need to see it in a proper planetarium, projected on a large curved screen. As far as I can ascertain the only place with plans to show it in Australia is the Wollongong Science Centre and Planetarium. It will definitely be worth a trip from Sydney to see the show.

There are, of course, other great planetarium shows that can be seen at planetariums around the country. Melbourne Planetarium creates its own shows and they are always worth seeing. Brisbane has a planetarium memorably located in the Botanical Gardens.

Sydney Observatory has a tiny and cosy planetarium, the beanbag planetarium, that has the advantage that it allows good interaction between the audience and the presenter. Additionally, it has the 3D Space Theatre with a variety of short and fascinating shows plus interactive presentations.

If you and/or your children want to be entertained and stimulated, head to your nearest planetarium or to Sydney Observatory!

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