It’s no secret that I love space exploration and astronomy – hence my Space Sunday series. Both are subjects which fit wonderfully into the niche of virtual worlds and virtual spaces, so I’m always on the look out from locations expressing either in-world. It therefore came as complete surprise to learn about the Sagan Planetarium courtesy of a Tweet and blog post by Ricco Saenz; so much so that I had to clear all other plans for region visits and move it to the top of my list of places to visit.
The planetarium – obviously named after one of the 20th century’s greatest intellects, the late astronomer and astrophysicist Carl Sagan – is the work of Josh Nitschke and is frankly a must-see visit, whatever your level of interest in astronomy and space exploration. The visitor spaces are split into four areas: the entrance lobby (I’ve used this as the landing point in the SLurls in this article), the Exhibition Hall, the main skydome and an outdoor orrery.
The exhibition area provides information boards on galaxies, nebulae, space missions such as Sputnik and the Hubble Space Telescope, and more. However, it is the interactive model of the Sun and the major planets of the solar system which is liable to hold attention. This provides a set of (not-to-scale, for obvious reasons!) models of the major planets from Mercury to Neptune, each with its significant moons (where applicable) and a sets of data panels. Given there is a wealth of information available about the planets, Josh has provided an excellent breakdown for each, although you’ll have to zoom right in to the panels to read it all. Touch the Sun and any of the planets, and you’ll get an annotated cutaway of the interior.
Above these is a model of the solar system going from the Sun to the orbit of Neptune – and this is to a scale of 1 metre to 1 billion kilometres. You can get an idea of the vastness of the space immediately around us, though, as none of the planets are visible in the model; only their orbits are shown, colour-coded – and you’ll have to zoom all the way in to even see the pinpoint of the Sun.
The skydome currently offer a single show – the Solar System. Lasting a little over 34 minutes, this is a multi-media presentation, requiring visitors accept the audio stream narration, written by Josh and given narrated by Phoenix Colter (this can also be obtained in a note card, but trying to read and watch the show is cumbersome; far better to listen if you can). Split into a number of elements, this show takes visitors on a journey through the solar system, from the Sun to the Kuiper belt, going by way of the cosmos at large. It incorporates the solar system’s creation, a look at the Sun and the major planets (and little Pluto – Charon, so far absent due to Pluto’s reclassification as a minor planet), and our emerging understanding of the solar system.
The wealth of information within the show is again extraordinary, and includes interactive elements: you can zoom at touch the planets when they are the focus of the show, for example, and see their interior structures. Two more shows are – or have been – in preparation for the skydome, one on the Apollo missions and one on the moons of the solar system. Assuming they’re both still in preparation (I’ve IM’d Josh to ask), I look forward to seeing them.
The orrery is located outside of the planetarium building and should not be missed. Beautifully ornate and in full working order – simply pull the control lever – it is the icing on the cake of a superb installation.
This is a fabulous build and presentation – the more so for all the core elements having been designed, written and scripted by Josh himself. As a planetarium, Sagan Planetarium stands head and shoulders above anything of this kind I’ve seen elsewhere. Yes, the presentation may be a little out-of-date courtesy of Dawn, Juno, New Horizons, and Rosetta, but this doesn’t in any way detract from what is presented. Sagan planetarium is a superb demonstration of what can be achieved within Second Life, visually and educationally.
I cannot recommend this enough – late though I might be in visiting myself! When visiting, please do consider a donation towards the upkeep of the facility, either directly or via the purchase of one of Josh’s brilliant models on sale in the gift shop.
- Sagan Planetarium (Aspen, rated: Moderate)