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"Dark Universe" dazzles and educates

The Mount Wilson Observatory in California is where Edwin Hubble researched the expansion of galaxies
The Mount Wilson Observatory in California is where Edwin Hubble researched the expansion of galaxies
Photo courtesy of California Academy of Sciences

Morrison Planetarium show

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Morrison Planetarium, which has become known for unique space shows, is screening its most ambitious project yet.

Like other shows, “Dark Universe” uses eye-popping graphics, music and compelling narration to illustrate the scientific concepts being presented.

But unlike other presentations, “Dark Universe” focuses on one of the most complex topics in astronomy: the creation and evolution of the universe.

Viewers will get a chance to experience it in the planetarium daily through Oct. 9.

Tickets are free with admission to the Admission to the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park

Produced by the American Museum of Natural History in New York, “Dark Universe” was a cooperative venture with the academy and the Japanese company Goto Inc.

It features was what is billed as the most realistic three-dimensional depiction of the Milky Way Galaxy and takes viewers through a chronology of astronomical research including the expansion of galaxies discovered by astronomer Edwin Hubble..

The production also probes the theories of “dark matter” and “dark energy” which make up the 95 percent of the universe invisible to the naked eye.

Much of the research involving “dark matter” is being conducted by Joel Primak, an academy fellow and distinguished professor of physics at UC Santa Cruz.

Some of the biggest names in astronomy and science education played a big role in bringing the production to life.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the American Museum’s Hayden Planetarium narrates the show.

Tyson is best known as a kind of science celebrity who hosted “Nova Science Now” on PBS and will host a remake of Carl Sagan’s astronomy series “Cosmos” on the Fox network. this spring.

UC Berkeley Emeritus Professor Timothy Ferris wrote the script. Ferris is a former newspaper reporter and “Rolling Stone” magazine editor.

One of his books “Coming of Age in the Milky Way,”

was named by the New York Times as one of the leading books of the 20th century.

Ferris produced the gold Voyager phonograph record which was placed on the spacecraft which was launched in the 1970’s.

The record is designed to replay the sounds and images of mankind to any alien civilization that finds it. Assuming they have a record player handy.

But the real stars of the show are the science visualization experts who create the graphics and images that make “Dark Universe” an immersive experience.

The American Museum and the academy are producing planetariums which create their own astronomy shows rather than receiving them from other sources as many museums do.

Appearing via streaming video at press preview last week, Tyson acknowledged the role of science visualization in creating such impressive presentations..

“Gone are the days when you would come into the planetarium and the only thing you would be exposed to is the night sky seen from earth,” he said.

“Our capacity and our power to take you places far transcends that simple first encounter we may have had in our first visit to a planetarium.”

“Dark Universe” is unique because unlike other astronomy shows which focus on what Tyson calls “things,” this production attempts to explain cosmological concepts in a compelling form.

The great challenge of an educator is how you portray an idea,” he said,

“These are unsolved ideas so we are proud of it.”

“I don’t think we knew until the visualization came out of the pipeline that it (show) could work the way we wanted it to.”

Given the complex nature of the show’s material, the language used in the production is simple and understandable, though it is easy to get caught up in the presentation and miss some of the scientific concepts being conveyed.

That’s o.k. said Tyson.

Viewers don’t have to understand all of the concepts in the show, as long as it whets their appetite to explore the subject further, he said.

I plan to go again. And pay more attention this time.

For more information, visit www.calacademy.org/academy/exhibits/dark_universe/