If the last time you went to see a planetarium show there was a giant ant in the middle of the room and the most amazing thing was a flashlight that projected an arrow on the ceiling, it’s time for you to check out, “The Search for Life: Are We Alone” at the Gates Planetarium.
For those who don’t follow this stuff the Gates Planetarium just recently underwent a complete redesign and is now completely digital. The 164 degree field of view is generated by 11 DLP projectors. That alone isn’t a good enough reason to go, however this show is.
This was hands-down the best planetarium show I have ever seen, and a must-see if you have kids. This show has the most amazing visuals, all generated by the NCSA (National Center for Supercomputing Applications) in Champaign, IL. (Same guys that brought us the Mosaic Web Browser in 1993). One of the more spectacular segments was the birth of our solar system that took a 512 processor SGI Origin2000 supercomputer over 4 days of dedicated compute time to render. (Thats about a million years in supercomputer time by the way)
I’ve been to Gates several times since the renovation and personally have been trying to figure out if I like digital planetariums better or not. They, and specifically Gates, has some weird artifacts that render faint glows where the projectors overlap. I have previously walked away thinking either there are several Milky Ways or something ain’t right. Well, forget about that with this show… it was awesome!
Highlights include the best visualization of planet orbital trajectories I have ever seen, a really cool segment showing the locations of planets we know of outside our solar system, and how far our radio waves have reached out from us since we started transmitting. Also there are cool panorama images from the mars rover that look incredible.
The show is about 30 minutes and really shows off what digital planetariums are all about.
The whole thing is narrated by Harrison Ford who does a great job.