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Thursday, January 1, 2009

Orbiting Fomalhaut, or Things We Did on Jan. 1, 2009

I don't know how he did it, but The Boy wrangled us some tickets to the new Morrison Planetarium at the California Academy of Sciences today. (I've been there three times already, and the lines to do anything there, including use the bathroom, are formidable. So I've not even been close to the inside of the planetarium until today.)

But whatever he did--bribe, kiss, look menacing-- The Boy knows that his little science dweeb Tangobaby enjoys nothing better than some good space-based entertainment. For those who remember the old planetariums with the spidery, imposing star projectors in the center of the floor, those days are gone. Instead are six state-of-the-art projectors cleverly hidden around the ceiling, creating the IMAX version of space travel for those of us packed into the stadium seating.

I miss the old-fangled projector, though. It was a childlike pleasure to think that an universe of stars was enclosed in a metal projector in San Francisco. The stars had to come from somewhere, right? The new show is modern, spectacular with lots of zooming and moving about the planets, and you get the added attraction of Sigourney Weaver's reading the narration.

As much as I was enjoying our trip through the universe, half of my brain kept going off and getting all distracted, wondering is that really Signourney Weaver's voice, or someone who sounds almost exactly like her, and if I really like Alien more than Aliens (I do), and how if it really was her voice, how cool it was (and entirely appropriate) that Ripley would be narrating our space journey.

The best part of the presentation was at the end, after the movie portion, when the planetarium guy (don't know what else to call him) told us about some very recent discoveries regarding exoplanets, or extrasolar planets. I had no idea that we've found so many, 333 planets to date. And two major discoveries by two different teams of astronomers on the same day (Fomalhaut b, which is 25 light years from Earth, and 130 light years away, the three planets orbiting a star named HR 8799).

Learning stuff like this just make me wish I was eight years old again, dreaming of being an astronaut or an astronomer, or wishing I could live several lifetimes just to see what we might discover over a span of a few generations. And I also think about a Pale Blue Dot, that no matter how much we discover about the universe, we're still just a mote, a speck. The real version of Horton Hears a Who!

Awesomely beautiful and fragile and rare, all at the same time.

Of course, I couldn't finish a post like this without another free association segue, so how about some David Bowie: "Life on Mars." I still don't quite understand the lyrics, but it's one song that does bring out the tiny feelings we have sometimes, that our lives are small. Small they may be, but not insignificant. And Bowie, I just love him, so that's reason enough right there.

I'm normally not a huge fan of cover music, but I really love Brazilian singer Seu Jorge's Portuguese covers of Bowie's music. You may remember his songs from the woefully underappreciated (and my favorite) Wes Anderson film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. (The Critereon Collection DVD has a ton of great extras to enjoy with the film itself.)


Unknown January 1, 2009 at 8:05 PM  

Happy New Year Tango!
And would I love to join you at that planetarium. So my thing! So!
I love sciency things also. Museums are my weak point. Air and Space in Washington made my heart go pitter pat.
Loved Aliens. And Sigourney. Maybe it is her voice. Maybe she likes to be the outerspace narrator babe. Maybe it pays well!
I am not entirely sure, but I think I sat beside Lance Henrikson at the All My Sons show in NYC last month. I kept looking at him and wondering. We chatted. I didn't have the heart to ask him if he had been ripped in half by an outerworldly creature in Alien. Somehow that may have been slightly ego deflating. But I still wonder.....
Okay done. Sorry bout that ramble!
Love you!!!!

vsm/whirling dirvish photography January 1, 2009 at 8:30 PM  

very cool! My first job (the one that pays the bills) is as a geologist. So science has always been a weakness. Give the Boy props! Sounds like you had a blast! What a start to a New Year!

julochka January 2, 2009 at 2:47 AM  

wow, what a way to ring in the new year...and what a post...we went from outer space to david bowie in one fell swoop. awesomeness!


Silliyak January 2, 2009 at 7:19 AM  

Just a shout out for SW in "Galaxy Quest"

Oooh. my verification is "keses" which I send your way for this new year.

Cynthia Pittmann January 2, 2009 at 7:44 AM  

Science Gal (aka tangobaby)You should check out the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. It's "the world's largest radio telescope" and was featured in the movie,"Contact" (Jodi Foster). The Bill Clinton(and daughter) came to Puerto Rico and visited the research center. Check out this site if you're interested,


I took astronomy in college and did not get it mixed up with astrology (too many times).

Blue Sky Dreaming January 2, 2009 at 9:30 AM  

Thanks for the wild ride...beginning for me at about 6 years old at that same planetarium...and ending with almost forgotten song and the topper, lighting a remembered cigarette and guitar and voice...to set last night's dreams! Enjoy your Free Friday!

DerekSmalls January 2, 2009 at 10:33 AM  

happy new year

Char January 2, 2009 at 11:47 AM  

wow - so many things to say here.

I am a sci-fi and space dweeb too - comes from being raised by a dad that loved Star Trek. Yes, I've seen all the movies - even the bad ones. I have been known to go to IMAX movies here by myself, so I know I would love the planetarium.

You mention Space Oddity - I love that song and I think it speaks a lot to the sense of isolation we have in modern times. But, a friend of mine does that song mixed with Rocket Man. I love it.

And the Alien movies scared the bejesus out of me. I can remember having to go see Aliens2 in my women's studies class. The assignment was to write an essay about how and why the women characters in that movie were stronger than the male characters.

whew...a lot

A Cuban In London January 2, 2009 at 12:38 PM  

Happy New Year to you, TB! And I loved your choice of music. You're right. That song by Bowie brings out a whole array of emotions that I cannot explain.

Greetings from London.

paris parfait January 2, 2009 at 1:14 PM  

Ooh, you lucky, lucky girl! The Boy isn't half bad in the gift department, is he? How much fun and full of wonder that must have been! xoxox

Brook January 2, 2009 at 4:36 PM  

I absolutely love The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. We( hubby and I)took the girls to an awesomely empty theater to watch this awesome flic and bought it as soon as possible. Definitely a favorite of ours-the soundtrack, iconic uniforms, the cut-a-way ship and more. The acting, the actors, well the list goes on and on. I thought we were the only people in the universe who love this movie. 'Scuse me while I go find my red beanie.

~DokterKenny January 2, 2009 at 8:51 PM  

Hey Jules,

anyone who knows me will tell you I am a science nut!. I love planetariums they are such surreal and peaceful places. If you have never been you also need to go to the Museum of Science in Boston and see the Indoor Lightening show. My other fav place is the Exploratorium and the Lawrence Livermore museum in Bezerkly. Of course the most impressive places are the Smithsonians. I was back there two years ago. I swear I could live in those places especially the Air and Space Smithsonian.

rhonda valentino January 2, 2009 at 9:07 PM  

One of my favorite movies too. I love the Brazilian Bowie soundtrack.

Relyn Lawson January 3, 2009 at 11:30 AM  

I love your dweebish science tendencies. But, what I really love is that the boy knows you so well that he takes you to do the most something you love. What a perfect tone to set for the new year.