Toronto is the only major centre in North America without a full scale planetarium.
That’s unfortunate because for most of the city, the stars are virtually invisible at night thanks to air and light pollution, which means most young people living in urban areas have never seen what the universe really looks like. The Earthshine Astronomy Space Science Organization is attempting to remedy that, starting out with a small portable planetarium that could, with the right support, blossom into a full blown state of the art facility capable of revealing the wonders of the universe that hang over our heads every night.
If you haven’t been to a planetarium recently, the technology has evolved far beyond a representation of the stars against a black sky as they would appear from a wilderness park. A new generation of high definition digital projectors turn the dome of a planetarium into a 360 degree nosecone of a spaceship, transporting audiences through the universe at the speed of a thought. Pick a shimmering dot in the sky, then zoom out to it, discover it’s a planet, fly around it then land on the surface. This is not a movie. The audience choses where to go, right out to the edge of the universe, guided by the planetarium operator.
The infinite flexibility of digital technology can also turn the dome into a submarine exploring the wonders of a coral reef or a time machine that takes you back to a Jurassic forest and the giant creatures hiding among the brushes. A modern planetarium is a powerful teaching tool that brings the universe to life in a totally engrossing, entertaining way.
With so much talk about global environmental issues, we often forget that the Earth is part of a much larger context, where it is only one relatively small planet among billions of others that are very, very different. Those other worlds are natural laboratories that tell us how planets evolve and change over time, providing insight to the changes we are imposing through human activity. In other words, learning about what is out in space, also teaches us about the ground beneath our feet.
The Toronto area needs a planetarium. Let’s put this city on the star map.
Bob McDonald, OC
Host, Quirks & Quarks, CBC