As we zoomed into the Crab Nebula, surrounded by a rainbow of space dust and stars, hands shot into the air, reaching out to touch new corners of the universe.
We had started in Yosemite Valley, with a tour of a true dark night sky and were transported hundreds of years back in time to an ancient observatory in India before looking up and out into the cosmos.
The new Cosmic Wonder show at Chicago’s Adler Planetarium takes visitors deep into space, no astronaut training required. Hosted by an Adler expert engaging viewers throughout the show, Cosmic Wonder tells the story of how natural human curiosity and wonder have led to detailed observation and incredible discoveries of the cosmos.
Sixth-graders from Frank W. Riley Elementary School had the opportunity to preview Cosmic Wonder early and said they were inspired by the show.
“It makes you want to discover more of the galaxy’s secrets,” says student Alberto Sanchez.
The show is presented in ultra-high definition, which basically just means you feel like you’re watching a 3D movie without wearing those plastic glasses. The students admitted to trying to reach out and grab the stars in the nebula the show features.
“I liked how you saw it all like you were actually there. It was amazing,” says Kate Mayancela, another Frank W. Riley student.
Adler President Michelle Larson said the planetarium hopes the sense of curiosity and excitement that kids had after Cosmic Wonder will spread to their parents and siblings.
“One of the things that is terrific about kids is that their sense of wonder is unbridled. They wonder about everything and we at Adler want to bring that back to the whole family,” Larson says.
Larson hopes the conversation will follow them on the drive or train ride home, and into their daily lives.
“When you come here, you can observe and discover the universe but when you go home, what else can you observe and discover?”
The show references Chicago a handful of times, something Larson describes as a conscious decision by the Adler team to keep things relatable.
“Watching [kids] build that perspective that we are a ball in space, it’s important to anchor it so that you don’t get lost in the vastness and think that it’s unimportant or unrelated. Why might we want to explore space? Well, because we live in it. It’s actually our neighborhood,” Larson says.
In celebration of the new show, the planetarium is launching 100 Days of Wonder, a summer program that kicks off May 16 at Adler After Dark. 100 Days of Wonder will feature daily activities, special temporary exhibitions and a new citizen science project: Space Warps.
Stuart Lynn, a member of the Citizen Science Department at Adler, says the projects they build are meant to help engage people in scientific discoveries after they leave the planetarium.
“We’re asking for people’s help in finding what we call gravitational lenses, or space warps. These are really cool but really rare things in the sky,” Lynn says.
When people log onto SpaceWarps.org, they’ll be given a patch of the sky to analyze. According to Lynn, there are millions of these patches that need to be combed through.
“What’s great about that is … you’re probably the first person to see that patch of sky, like no human eye has probably looked at that patch before,” Lynn says.
After the citizen scientist identifies a space warp, the discoveries go into a database to be analyzed by experts.
Cosmic Wonder opens to the public May 17 and runs through April 1, 2014. Admission to Cosmic Wonder is included in the Premium Pass ($28 for adults, $22 for children). Tickets can be purchased at alderpanetarium.org.