The Island of Doubt

I was going to post a rant about John McCain’s dishonest reference to Barack Obama’s “overhead projector” earmark in Tuesday’s presidential debate, but Joe Romm beat me to it. Again. So let me just say this about planetariums (planetaria?) instead:

The planetarium at the Manitoba Museum in Winnipeg played a key role in fostering my love of science. I can remember, when in my single-digit years, looking forward to the star theater each time we made the four-hour drive from the middle of northwestern Ontario to the big city. My parents would almost always take my brother and me to the planetarium, where we would wander through the black-lit exhibits on novae, gravity wells and galactic clusters. Then we would sit through whatever educational program was currently playing.

We learned all about the big bang, quasars, the exploration of the moon, possible end-of-universe scenarios and, of course, the constellations. And we loved every minute of it. I often left with a poster of some some cluster or another to hang in my bedroom.

By the time we were in our teens, we’d schedule our visits to ensure we saw a laser light show (Laser Floyd was my favorite), but we still spent a fair amount of time on the exhibits, which, while never seeming to change, never failed to fascinate. I still love planetariums and try to make sure I check one out when I visit a city so equipped, although I have to admit I’m over the light shows. (The one I forced my mother to sit through in London, England, when I was 15, involving a painfully loud version of Stairway to Heaven, put an end to that infatuation.)

When I finally got around to getting a degree in a science, I chose marine biology because it involved getting out on the water, an activity that trumps indoor virtual entertainment most days of the week. But science is science, and when it’s raining, dark or you’re thousands of kilometers from a coastline, it’s hard to beat a couple of hours at a planetarium.

So $3 million for a computer-controlled planetarium projector? I wish it had been funded. We’re talking about (I’m going to rant anyway) Chicago’s Adler planetarium, folks. It’s the oldest in the U.S. Surely it deserves an overhaul. Compare it to Winnipeg’s

Zeiss Model Vs Star Projector. This precision opto-mechanical machine contains 154 projectors which work together to create an amazingly realistic night sky containing more than 9,000 stars, the Milky Way, the sun, moon and planets. The projector was manufactured in (the former) West Germany by the Carl Zeiss Optical Company of Oberkochen. It cost $125,000 Cdn in 1967. To replace the projector today would cost in excess of $2 million.

And I hope every American who’s ever enjoyed a star theater show keeps that in mind when it comes to voting this year.


  1. #1 Elf Eye
    October 9, 2008

    You betcha! I am votin’ for That One, my friend.

  2. #2 metapsyche
    October 9, 2008

    For McCain to say that a planetarium is “foolishness” a few months before the International Year of Astronomy (IYA2009) is harsh.

  3. #3 metapsyche
    October 9, 2008

    For McCain to say that a planetarium is “foolishness” a few months before the International Year of Astronomy (IYA2009) is harsh.

  4. #4 paulm
    October 10, 2008

    Obama Predicted GOP’s Nasty Turn (VIDEO)

    McCain is actually using Obama’s predictions since he cant think up one himself!

  5. #5 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    October 11, 2008

    Shortly after the Manitoba Museum for Man and Nature opened up, our family would take the 90 minute drive north into Winnipeg at least twice a year for the museum and the planetarium, (sandwiching a trip to the Spaghetti Factory on Bannatyne.)

    I remember one great show in which they speculated about the possibility of crossing into other universes through black holes. It was a fantastic experience each time. The show started with the blue sky darkening over a Winnipeg skyline, and we tried to guess which planets or stars would appear first (usually Betelguese.) We would have contests to see who could name the most constellations before the show started.

    It’s not a waste of spending to keep such equipment updated.

    In the good news, Minneapolis’ Library has now completed its fundraising drive to build a new planetarium!

  6. #6 paulm
    October 13, 2008

    Many here think we can bet the climate change issue without reducing our consumption in the developed world. (ie material living standard). But NO we cant!

    This recession come depression is a necessary path to addressing the issue and as climate environmentalist we should embrace it.

  7. #7 Trin Tragula
    October 13, 2008

    I’m sure it’s all just a misunderstanding. McCain probably thought the earmark was for Planaria, not Planetaria, and he thinks $3 mil is too much for a flatworm.

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