Thursday, November 02, 2006

My God, it's full of stars!

Today involved wrestling with a large inflatable dome in our Physics Department common room. Not just any dome mind you, but a dome containing the promise of revealing the wonders of the universe. For you see the dome, once suitably filled with air, became the basis of a portable planetarium. Also required was a quarter of a spherical mirror, a data projector, a laptop with the Stellarium software (which I thoroughly recommend people get by the way - don't worry it's free to download), and several people to stand around and go "Ooooohh! Aaahhhh!". The reason for assembling the planetarium was so that people who'd not seen it done before (i.e. me) would know how to do it when we are potentially sent to schools to show kids the wonders of space. We also wanted to know how quick we could inflate/set it up and deflate it for these events. The features of the software allowed a very good range of control over the sky when in the planetarium - from just show the motions of the celestial objects to projecting constellations or reference grids, captioning objects, or zooming in on particular objects. It all looked very nice and was impressive for what you consider was just a normal data projector in a blow-up sheet of material - apparently this was considerably more hi-tech than the previous portable planetarium, which used a can with pin holes in it to project objects! The whole excersize proved quite fun and entertaining, but now all us budding planetarium show volunteers need to get ourselves acquainted with the software and think up our own style of show. ellielabelle also expounds the wonders of the planetarium in her post here.

I may be rather crude, but I did see another opportunity for use of the planetarium. With it's shape and rather labia-like opening (I should really post a picture - of the planetarium, not a labia, I'm not that kind of website!) it seemed that it could be used in sex education classes (once we've taught the astronomy - no, not as part of the sex-ed). A womb like environment could be projected on the inside followed by a birthing experience as people emerge from the dome. I think there may have been a similar exhibit in the Body zone at the Millennium Dome.