When I was a little girl, before the realities of math and science sunk in, I wanted to be an astronaut. I was fascinated with everything about space: zero gravity, those spinning simulators at space camp, the powdery texture of astronaut ice cream.
If you have ever stared up at the night sky and wished you could explore the stars, Adler Planetarium is the place to visit. Now Adler is going a step farther, with a new space adventure that moves beyond our solar system and the Milky Way-to the edges of the Universe.
I got a sneak peek at the awe-inspiring "Welcome to the Universe," coming to the Grainger Sky Theater, and left feeling pretty tiny in the grand scheme of billions of light years. After all, the audience travels virtually from Earth to the outer reaches of the cosmos.
The show, updated weekly to make sure data is current, begins here in Chicago with the night sky we see overhead. Amateur astronomers may even pick up some helpful tips, like how to locate visible planets using stars as landmarks. Next, you travel to the Moon, Mars and the International Space Station. Visitors are even invited to extend their hand and block the Moon out with their thumb, like astronaut Jim Lovell once famously did.
Then comes the big stuff. If you think you feel small staring into the Grand Canyon, you'll feel practically infinitesimal (and maybe a little dizzy) zooming through the web of galaxies called the Local Group. You also get the sense of just how much there still is to be explored.
When NASA's space shuttle program ended in 2011, I was a little sad that kids wouldn't get to dream about donning a space suit and heading to Mars. But watching "Welcome to the Universe," I felt hopeful. There's an incredible Universe out there, just waiting to be explored. Maybe someday we'll get out there for real, but for now, we can sit back, relax and enjoy the virtual ride.
Elizabeth Diffin is the associate editor at Chicago Parent. She lives in Wheaton.
See more of Elizabeth's stories here.