When visiting San Francisco, whether you’re a lover of astronomy or just enjoy gazing up at the evening sky once in a while, you must be sure to visit Morrison Planetarium at the California Academy of Sciences, in the Golden Gate Park. If you’ve always dreamed of travelling into space, Morrison Planetarium’s Fragile Planet will make you wonder if an astronaut sitting in a space station wouldn’t be just a little bit jealous of your view.
Gone are the days of those old silver air-filled domes that kids would crowd into inside of school gymnasiums. Morrison Planetarium, at 90 feet in diameter, is the largest dome in the world with all-digital technology. With a screen bigger and more enveloping than an IMAX theatre, six digital projectors make for a seamless, life-like experience that will have you feeling as if you’re seated on the outside of a helicopter while Earth-bound, or on the nose of a spaceship as you rise up and soar into outer space.
Morrison Planetarium is currently showing a program called Fragile Planet, which was created within the academy, and does a wonderful job of combining information on the causes of global warming with more traditional planetarium features, such as trips to other planets in our solar system and views of other galaxies, all thanks to up-to-date satellite images, and pictures from the Hubble telescope.
Narrated by Sigourney Weaver, Fragile Planet takes you from the Living Roof of the California Academy of Sciences building, up, up, and away into space. However, before ascending, as you fly around and hover over the Living Roof, you get a vivid feeling of what’s to come. This digital out of body experience one feels over the roof is, while educational, a teaser of sorts. The images are so clear and so all-encompassing that it’s easy and thrilling to imagine flying to outer space, with no rules, no laws, and no concept of time. The anticipation keeps you on the edge of your seat, and once you’re in space, you wont want to come back.
The digital technology used in the planetarium makes for astonishing 3-D-like views, and the width of the screen makes it easy to forget that you are confined to a dome. During the entire show, you feel like you’re on an actual expedition into space. The movement, sometimes dizzying yet exciting, makes you feel like you’re having an intimate, close-up encounter with other planets such as Mars and even Gliece 581c.
Anyone who has seen pictures of distant galaxies taken by Hubble knows that images light-years away naturally become fuzzy, however the creators of Fragile Planet fail to disappoint. As you fly towards different galaxies, the beauty of your surroundings, and the animations used in the program keep you interested and in the moment.
Pauses in the narration allow the host to give audiences the latest up-to-date facts and discoveries concerning planets and other solar systems discussed in the program. At the end, the host displays the current night’s sky, and points out planets and constellations that can be seen when away from city lights.
As the credits rolled, I knew I’d come back to the planetarium with my children time and time again. One half-hour show just isn’t enough, and Fragile Planet is the type of program you could experience millions of times without losing the awe-factor.
Fragile Planet is a half-hour long and plays every hour on the half hour, with an additional showing Sundays at 10:30 am for academy members only. Children under six-years-old are discouraged because of the sounds and dizzying effects that could make one seasick, but my six-year-old is the adventurous type who loves roller coasters, and she squealed with delight while flying through space while my husband, the Marine, had to close his eyes for a few moments to combat light queasiness.
The Morrison Planetarium is located at 55 Music Concourse Drive, Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Regular hours are Monday-Friday 9:30 am to 5:00 pm, and Sunday, 11:00 pm to 5:00 pm. Admission prices for the California Academy of Sciences are $24.95 per adult, $14.95 for children ages 7-11, and $19.95 for children ages 12-17, students and seniors. Children 6 and younger are free. With the price of admission, you can also visit the newly-remodeled aquarium and several smaller exhibits.