Introduction

U of T’s planetarium: zoom in from the edge of the universe!

U of T’s planetarium: zoom in from the edge of the universe!

I remember when I was a wee little thing, I’d lie in my bed at night and stare at the ceiling, wishing I could somehow transform the white paint into the night sky. Years later, a friend came back from Japan with a Homestar Pro – it’s this little globular projector that shines the stars onto the ceiling. We thought it was the coolest thing ever and even had an indoor picnic complete with cheesy music to toast our extreme nerdiness.

U of T though, just upped the ante with an inflatable planetarium tucked away in the basement of the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics building.

I’m not even going to say anything just yet. Let me take you on an adventure wherein I bring you to the very edge of the known universe and fly you back to Earth at an average speed of 7000 trillion times the speed of light. Open up the Inception or the Matrix soundtrack, or the Doctor Who or the Big Bang Theory theme song, or something equally epic. And then watch this:

Fly to Earth from the Edge of the Universe from Cynthia@lifeatuoft on Vimeo.

We just covered a distance of about 14 billion light years in 1 minute. I know right, UNREAL.

So what did we fly past? I’ll let Michael Williams, Observatory Demonstrator at the Department take it away –

The blue green triangles represent all the galaxies and quasars (very energetic distant galaxies) that we have mapped. The triangles are made up of hundreds of thousands of dots; each dot representing a galaxy. The triangular shape is due to the fact that we cannot see through the disk of our galaxy, so we have not mapped any galaxies that are behind it. In reality, that triangular shape should be more like a ball.

The blue sphere represents how far human-made radio signals have traveled. The radius of the sphere is 70 light years and it has been about 70 years since we started boradcasting radio signals that were strong enough to escape Earth’s ionosphere.

This isn’t all the planetarium is capable of projecting. Apart from showing me the night sky (pretty stars are pretty!), outlining the constellations for me and showing me an eclipse, Mike brought me around to the different planets; he even flew me to the moon!

“The graphics for the surfaces of Earth, the Moon and Mars are from a NASA database,” says Mike, “most of the other graphics and images come from the American Museum of Natural History.” You’re actually looking at the back of the moon; the side we never see from Earth (the dot on the right) because we always see its front.

We also went to Pluto (who is no longer a planet, if you didn’t get the memo yet) for nostalgia’s sake. Apparently, to be considered a planet, you have to 1) revolve around the sun; 2) be large enough that your mass pulls you into a sphere; and 3) has “cleared the neighbourhood” around your orbit. Poor Pluto, who missed out on the very last criterion. Close, but no cigar.

The planetarium itself is like a giant inflatable castle (but made of sturdier materials; I poked to check), kept erect by continuously pumping air into it.

It has a projector that is connected to a computer (you can control the display via a video game controller!) that is controlled by another computer.

So I guess the question you’re bursting to ask is whether or not you can go see the planetarium in person, even if you’re not an Astronomy student at U of T (or working for UpbeaT, heh). The answer is, why yes, dear readers, yes you can!

Mike gives free, open lectures to the public every month. It’s around 5-7 minutes in length while you and about 24 other people are seated inside the planetarium, listening to an introduction to the universe with a specific focus on what’s important in the field right now. This month’s tour is full, but next month’s will be available soon – be sure to sign up!

So are you going to go check out the planetarium? What’s your favourite planet? Any epic soundtracks I should be aware of that would make a great background to the video? Speaking of which, if you’re so video-inclined, feel free to add audio tracks to the video! Of course, link back so I can see!

Hope you had a great Turkey weekend,

– Cynthia

6 comments on “U of T’s planetarium: zoom in from the edge of the universe!

  1. Yay! It’s open for everyone! I heard about it in the summer and got excited over it.

    P.S. I’m a HUGE fan of Dr. Who. Any other Whovians out there?

  2. @Dominique: YAY indeed! I was a tad worried that it was only going to be for Astronomy students. So happy that it’s open for all!

    LOVE Doctor Who. Did you see the last season with Amy Pond? I didn’t think I’d like a companion more than Donna and a Doctor more than Tennant, but they won me over before the end of the first episode and it was so much fun (Skittles!Daleks aside) for the rest of the season.

    @Lori: You’re going next month? AWESOME. Let me know how it goes!

  3. Cynthia: Matt Smith is Amazing!! Such a good actor. I loved Tennant too and was really sad after the finally but Matt is brilliant, and a hipster doctor too :). Oh and Rory is pretty funny too. I did not really like Amy that much because I thought her acting wasn’t very good. What was your fav episode?

    Donna is probably my favourite companion actually. She is hilarious.

    Sorry for the long comment. I seriously need to find british Dr. Who fans in school so we can talk about the show.

    Have you seen this? It still cracks me up every time.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WxB1gB6K-2A

  4. YESYESYES, Dominique, I totally saw that! I obsessively watched almost all DW-related clips on Youtube.

    “You take the high road and I’ll take the low road!”

    I liked all the new doctors. I haven’t see the old ones, so I can’t compare, but I adored just about everyone on the show (though Rose got on my nerves quite a bit, the way Gwen from Torchwood did).

    To be honest, Amy was just really fun eye candy. I loved her character’s personality and she’s gorgeous, so.

    High5 fellow DW fan! While we’re on British TV – do you watch Torchwood and/or Merlin?

  5. YES!!!!!!! MERLIN!! I loove that show!! I don’t know anyone else who watches it. Colin is adorable. We seriously need to hang out in campus one day to talk about this!

    Did you park the TARDIS in the meter? haha

    I really like Torchwood too! I haven’t seen all of them, just a couple. I saw Children of Earth (I think was the title), sooo good, and also the episode where Owen and the japanese lady dies.

    P.S. Have you seen the new series Sherlock? You should!!

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