The Adler 'Scope
20,000 Leagues Under the Stars
A year ago, an incredibly common thing happened. A large meteor entered our atmosphere over the Midwest, exploded, and rained down hundreds of meteorites into Lake Michigan. Thousands of meteorites fall to Earth every year; this on paper isn’t all that astounding. What’s even more common is that it landed in water. About 71 percent of Earth is covered in water, so it makes sense a large majority of these meteorite falls would land there. However, this seemingly ordinary event has fueled something truly extraordinary. For the first time ever, teens from the Adler Planetarium, The Field Museum, and Shedd Aquarium are working together to embark on a student-centered, systematic, underwater meteorite hunt dubbed The Aquarius Project. These Chicago teens, and the scientists from each institution, are all working together to detect and recover these submerged space rocks.
You want to inspire a teen? Ask them to lead the charge on an unprecedented, underwater cosmic treasure hunt. At our project kickoff in November, a student asked NASA scientist Marc Fries, “Well, what have you all done before when this happens?” His only answer was, “We haven’t done this before.” When a teen hears a scientist admit to not knowing something, that teen realizes his or her own power to discover something new about the Universe.
The Aquarius Project’s teen-authored, sled design challenge has been shared with more than 450 students from across Chicago at community maker fairs and after school hack events, internationally at the 2017 Mozilla Festival in London, and across the internet through the online design education website of The Chicago Architecture Foundation Discover Design.
Nearly 50 teens from these institutions are currently collaborating digitally to improve on the initial retrieval designs. They are engineering environmental sensors, a magnetic bilge pump retrieval sled mount, and an outfitted meteorite retrieval underwater ROV (an underwater robot!).
This summer, The Aquarius Project will put their ideas to the test.
“Relevance of Collections”—the Artefacts meeting comes to Chicago
For more than two decades now, the Artefacts consortium has been promoting an annual meeting that brings together museum professionals and scholars working with scientific and technological collections. This year’s meeting, the 23rd in the series, was hosted by the Adler Planetarium, under the theme “Relevance of Collections.”
During the three days of Artefacts XXIII (Oct. 14-16; see program here), we witnessed a wonderful roll of presentations given by speakers from nine countries and 16 institutions. We saw how overlooked or “sleeping” objects in science and technology museums gain new lives when their stories are researched deeper. Or when we think of them not in terms of success vs. failure, but as material evidence for dynamic processes of inquiry and invention, and personal endeavor. We heard about museum artifacts acquiring new meanings when revisited with the aid of modern technologies—for example, early sound recordings literally being made to speak, revealing their content after decades of silence.
We learned more about the immense potential of digital technologies, be it to engage audiences all over the world with a museum collection through video-gaming, or to rekindle a traditional exhibition project that was hampered by political events, but which came to fruition nonetheless in digital form. Digital images and storytelling tools will never replace the actual artifacts, but they can be a powerful aid in overcoming various kinds of obstacles as we seek to make museum objects ever more visible and accessible.
Art historians and curators shared their views on the intersections and overlaps between art and science collections, which are much more intertwined than the traditional disciplinary divisions followed by cultural institutions may suggest. In fact, the need to go beyond conceptual and institutional boundaries, including within institutions, came across several presentations. It was particularly evident in a session led by staff from the Adler’s collections, citizen science, and visualization teams, which highlighted how important it is to raise awareness for collections among museum staff at large and to foster collaboration across different departments in order to further explore their potential.
In the closing session, we went back to the fundamental issues underlying the whole meeting: what to preserve, what for, for whom? Or, as one the last speakers aptly puts it, “What’s worth preserving?”. There will never be definitive answers to such questions, and it is up to each institution to find the responses that will suit them best. But it’s certainly worth, helpful, and inspiring to debate these issues with colleagues from all over the world in a lively, friendly, and thought-provoking environment, as we experienced at the Adler over the three days of Artefacts XXIII. And one thing is for sure—museum collections will remain relevant as long as the museum community strive to make them meaningful to broader society, and keep on exploring creative ways to do so.
Header image: Cathleen Lewis speaking about the changing meaning of the National Air and Space Museum’s spacesuit collection.
The Magic Behind Planetarium Domes
Nick Lake Behind the Scenes
Hi, I’m Nick Lake, Presentation Leader & Theater Technician here at the Adler Planetarium. Today, I’d like to talk about our planetarium theaters, specifically the domes, and how we use planetarium software to transport viewers to new worlds.
For me, the most exciting thing about planetarium domes is the ability to make the audience feel like they are really transported to far away places. As an example, for our monthly Yoga Under the Stars program, I make the most of this capability, transporting our yoga guests all around our Universe. During one pose, participants are on the surface of the Moon. In the next pose, they are on a Norwegian mountain top viewing the northern lights. After that, they’re in Mars’ orbit, looking down at the cavernous Mariner Valley.
It’s a lot of fun playing around with different landscapes, symbolically shrinking the audience down, allowing them to gain a different perspective from what they would experience in the everyday world.
To show you how we prepare an image for the dome, I’m going to use this armillary sphere located near the Adler’s Telescopes: Through the Looking Glass exhibition. I want to make the audience feel like they’ve been transported inside this piece.
To capture the shot, I use a camera equipped with a circular fisheye lens, which captures a hemispherical image that will map easily to the shape of the dome in our Grainger Sky Theater. This image shape helps me imagine the shot and how it will look when the audience is “standing inside it.”
As I prepare to capture the shot, I have to remember when framing the image that the center of the picture will appear directly above the audience’s head and therefore be hard to see unless you crane your neck upward at a potentially uncomfortable angle. This is because the direct center of the planetarium dome is not the focal point for audiences. Rather, the focal point is off center and halfway down from the center of the dome.
In order to make sure that the focal point of my image appears on the correct part of the dome, I need to adjust the shot so that it appears more toward the bottom center of my image. In this case, I want the Earth globe in the center of the armillary sphere to be the focal point and I’ve adjusted the camera accordingly.
Once the image is captured, it’s time to upload it to our planetarium software. The Grainger Sky Theater has six projectors, each connected to four computers. Each of these computers needs a copy of the image so it is able to produce its portion when called upon. Copying the entire image to each computer (instead of copying just one section) allows for the fulldome image to be rotated, flipped, etc., in real time during the presentation. (Yes, for yoga the show is run manually, giving some extra flexibility and versatility)
Thankfully, our planetarium software takes care of the complex math in this next step. (Phew!) It pieces together the individual images, making them appear like one seamless image across the dome of the theater.
Once the software has done the math—voila!—you’ve been transported. Here I am standing in the Grainger Sky Theater looking up from “inside” our armillary sphere!
Our image works really well! And you can see it for yourself at home using this VR/360 view on your mobile device!
The planetarium dome is an amazing canvas full of challenges and opportunities. Next time you’re planning a trip to the Adler, consider Yoga Under the Stars, which happens every first Saturday of the month. Then you can watch the magic unfold on the dome for yourself, all while enjoying a relaxing morning wake up!
Adler Skywatch: December 2018
Do the days seem to be getting a little darker this month? It’s not your imagination. You can see the change for yourself, along with some of the night’s brightest stars and planets, during the month of December 2018!
This month the Sun rises around 7:00 am CT, and sets before 4:30 pm. That means we get fewer than ten hours of sunlight each day. This trend will continue until around the time of the solstice, which falls on the 21st at 4:23 pm CT. Around that date, the trend reverses; and the daylight hours gradually get longer.
The first week of the month, just after sunset, look very close to the southwest horizon to try to spot the planet Saturn. The evening of the 8th, it’s just above and to the left of an extremely thin waxing crescent Moon—though it may be difficult to see either Saturn or the Moon unless you have a clear view to the southwest. By mid-month Saturn appears so close to the setting Sun that it will be difficult if not impossible to see.
During evening twilight, the planet Mars is about 40 to 45 degrees high in the south-southeast. The night of the 14th it appears a few degrees above a waxing crescent Moon. Mars is low in the west-southwest around 10 p.m. Central time.
Later in the evening, around 11Loo pm, some of the night’s brightest stars form a great circle in the southern skies. Start with the lowest and the brightest star, Sirius, in the constellation Canis Major. Move your line-of-view clockwise and upward to reach the star Procyon, in Canis Minor; followed by Pollux and Castor, the “twin” stars in the constellation Gemini. At the top of the circle is bright Capella, in the constellation Auriga. Continue moving clockwise, but downward, to reach the star Aldebaran, in the constellation Taurus. Further down the circle is Rigel, in the constellation Orion. And further downward and to the left completes the circle back at Sirius.
As morning twilight begins, look for brilliant Venus low in the southeast. The morning of the 3rd, it appears below a waning crescent Moon. After mid-month, as morning twilight brightens the sky, try looking downward from Venus, close to the horizon and about 20 degrees to Venus’s left. With clear skies, you may spot two more planets: bright Mercury and even-brighter Jupiter. The mornings of the 21st and 22nd they appear only about a degree apart, even though the two planets are actually many millions of miles away from each other in space. Mercury drops toward the horizon each morning, but Jupiter climbs higher in the sky through the month.
New Moon: December 7
First Quarter Moon: December 15
Full Moon: December 22
Last Quarter Moon: December 29
**Please note: these descriptions are for the Chicago area, using Central time.
Adler Staff Star: Meet Sarah!
Manager of Development
What do you enjoy the most about working at the Adler?
I have the best job: I get to be a storyteller and ambassador for the Adler out in the community, and invite the community to be a part of what we’re doing at the Adler. The Adler team is so passionate and talented, it’s always a joy to say, “join us!”
What is one of your favorite memories from your time at the Adler?
A couple of years ago, my 80-year-old grandparents came with me to an event here. The Doane Observatory was open that night, and they saw the Pleiades through the most powerful telescope they’d ever used. It was a fantastic lesson for me that you’re never too old to have your world expanded!
Why, in your opinion, is space freaking awesome?
There are so many insane space facts, but for me, what makes space freaking awesome is simply how it unites us all on Earth. The vastness of space compared to our tiny planet we call home reminds me how connected we all are and how important it is for us all to be looking out for one another.
What do you like to do outside the Adler?
I have a special place in my heart for middle schoolers, and volunteer with a youth group/mentoring organization called Young Life. We hang out at least once a week, and our activities range from crazy—playing frisbee with a squid!—to serious, walking them through whatever life is throwing at them.
Share one interesting fact about yourself!
Our friends are convinced that our cat is imaginary—she’s so shy she hides whenever my husband and I have friends over, no one else has actually seen her! Who knows, maybe she’s a figment of our imaginations too!
Episode 3 of The Aquarius Project Podcast is Now Available!
Episode 3 of the Aquarius Project Podcast is available now! If you’re new to the series, start here.
It’s been a minute since our last update about The Aquarius Project, the Adler Planetarium’s one-of-a-kind underwater meteorite hunt. If you haven’t been following #aquariusproject on Open Explorer or your social media platform of choice, you might not know how busy the team has been.
In the past few months, they’ve taken two trips to the crash site on a research vessel called the Neeskay, recovered several buckets of rocks (some of which might be from space, but we won’t know for sure until every pebble and grain of sand has been thoroughly examined in the lab), and won a Chicago Innovation Award!
You can learn more about the project, get to know the team, and join us on this great adventure in The Aquarius Project Podcast, a six-episode series that follows the project from its humble origins in the asteroid belt to the bottom of the lake and back. Listen to the first three episodes (and subscribe to, rate, and review the podcast!) on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, and SoundCloud.
Choose the Moon With Us This Winter!
This winter, we’re stopping to #LookUp and celebrate the mysteries and magnetism of our closest celestial neighbor, the Moon.
The Moon has been a source of wonder for all of human history. It has been a muse for poetry, art, and epic stories. As people studied and recorded the patterns of the Moon’s movements, they discovered that it was much more than a mysterious light in our sky.
Join us as we come together to experience a total lunar eclipse—the first visible to us in its entirely since 2015!—as well as premiere a brand new sky show, Imagine the Moon, which takes a closer look at the Earth’s relationship with our little orbiting satellite!
Beginning December 2018
Installation featuring Moon by UK artist Luke Jerram
January 18, 2019
Imagine the Moon sky show premiere
January 20, 2019
Lunar Eclipse Observing Event
Sign Up For Exclusive Content!
Need some Space in your inbox? Subscribe to our newsletter to be the first to receive the latest news on Adler programs, events, and happenings.