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Deep Space Adventure at Adler Planetarium

July 19, 2011
Science in Chicago during Deep Space Adventure

A Deep Space Adventure dedicated to Carl Sagan

7 sets of goose bumps,

20 projectors,

200,000 CPU hours,


AND many 1,000,000,000,000 bytes (terabytes) in the making,

Deep Space Adventure premiered at Adler Planetarium’s newly renovated Grainger Sky Theater on Friday July 8, 2011. As the world’s most advanced planetarium, the Grainger Sky Theater “will project the largest single seamless digital image in the world with an ultra high-definition screen resolution of more than 8k x 8k pixels. This far surpasses the cinematic standard of 2k x 4k pixels, presenting a level of realism that can only be surpassed by actual space travel.”

The theater’s capabilities rivals those found in high-end military flight simulators, but you won’t find military personnel covered in goose bumps. Do you know that feeling where your body hair reaches for the stars, usually during moments of awe when you witness something spectacular? Last year during Tom Travels I experienced many spectacular moments–in the Rocky mountains, while staring at the Milky Way in the darkness of west Texas, and on the Apache Trail. This year, during the ~30 minute Deep Space Adventure, goose bumps took over my body seven times! (yes, I kept track with a tally during the show) If you have an urge to search for life on other planets, want to enlighten your mind about deep space; or enjoy colorful, spectacular space visualizations, come travel on a ride like you’ve never taken before.

Science in Chicago

During Deep Space Adventure you ride along with The Searcher, an alien narrator voiced by Billy Crudup, as a passenger aboard a futuristic spacecraft in search of a planet housing his lost civilization. Although the storyline (written by Nick Sagan) is that of science-fiction, much of the information presented is as real as you are alive. You’ll walk away with a basic understanding of what astrophysicists & astronomers are currently studying.

In addition to an educational and entertaining story, the producers worked hard to develop images that are realistic representations of events in our universe. They created a movie with the help of supercomputers, data, and images from NASA Ames Research Center in California, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. If you didn’t know any better, you might think you ARE flying through space. (On a side note: During a Q&A with this team of experts, I learned that the quickest way to send terabytes of data is not the internet, but FedEx.)

Deep Space Adventure Science in ChicagoDuring your rideyou’ll encounter magnificent sights such as a black hole, a collision between the Milky Way & Andromeda galaxies, and a supernova. Some scenes make you feel like you’re sitting in a kaleidoscope. Other scenes will have you in awe as the black hole’s relentless gravitational pull upsets the structural integrity of an entire star. In another scene, a star explodes with a brilliant flash of light, a thundering rumble, and a tsunami-like wave of energy; as The Searcher puts it, ‘a spectacular disaster.’

The visual stimuli and storyline are only 2/3 of the awesomeness of Deep Space Adventure. I saw the show 3 times on opening weekend and on the 3rd viewing I decided to sit in the Grainger Sky Theater with my eyes closed. The visualizations will impress any 6-year-old or your grandma, so it’s simple for the human mind to lose track of the auditory stimuli.

Previously, I had missed many of the smaller details of Nick Sagan’s script. Being the son of famed astronomer and science communicator, he does a great job of illuminating our understanding of the cosmos and encouraging viewers to search for answers to the big question–is there life beyond our solar system? The original music for the show was composed by Andrea Centazzo. His music fits well with any form of interplanetary space travel. In addition to hearing Billy Crudup’s voice (who happens to be the main character in one of my favorite movies, Jesus’ Son), my 3rd viewing was as stimulating as the first 2.

In conclusion, this power of collaboration between scientists, graphic artists, visualizers, composers and writers is worth the price of admission. Dedicated to Carl Sagan, your adventure with The Searcher will explore the wonder and importance of science. Deep Space Adventure puts the ‘awe’ in AWESOMENESS that can be found every day in your life as you look up at the stars. So, if you’re looking for something cool to see, put down your computer, travel on down to the museum campus in Chicago, and purchase your ticket to the most advanced planetarium in the world…and get ready for some goose bumps!

Thanks for reading, LET YOU BE YOU.

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