Imagine that it’s the middle of the night, and you are so far out in the country, that the customary orange glow of street lights has vanished. Oh, and it just happens to be one of the 40 odd days of the year when there are no clouds in the sky. You lie back, and as your eyes get accustomed to the darkness, dots of light start appearing against the velvet black night’s sky. Soon the sky is filled with so many stars you can’t imagine why you’ve never noticed them before.
We don’t always get the opportunity to see the sky like this, which is why we were delighted when we had the chance to visit the Thinktank Planetarium, at Birmingham’s Millennium Point last week. Ok, so you can’t smell the grass or hear the crickets, but at least you can see the stars.
The Thinktank Planetarium was the UK’s first, purpose built, digital planetarium and seats 70. We sat at the back but, wherever you sit, don’t forget to look around you, as the 360 degree full dome experience means that you are completely immersed in the show, whether it is the Sky at Night or SciArt (Science Art).
Make sure you pick up a timetable of shows from the front desk, or check out the Thinktank website, as shows can vary from day to day. Queuing didn’t seem to be a problem when we went, as the more popular shows are shown a few times during the day. We got there about 5 -10 minutes before the start of each show.
There is no additional charge for most day shows once you are in ThinkTank, so you can see as many as you like. We chose two shows for our visit, ‘Stars & Stories of Summer’ and ‘Earth, Moon and Sun’.
‘Stars & Stories of Summer’ was created by the Thinktank Planetarium Team and is a presenter-led journey through the summer night’s sky. Our presenter on the day was Colin, who pointed out the various constellations and planets visible at the moment and how to find them. His presentation was engaging and informative. One fascinating aspect was how much light pollution can impact on our enjoyment of the sky at night. The show gives you the night’s sky as you were meant to see it, without clouds or light pollution. The show varies throughout the year to take into account the different positions of the constellations and planets. Colin told us later, that every two minutes of the show took 5 days of programming by the planetarium team. With this show lasting around 25 minutes, that’s over two months of programming – without any days off! Don’t forget to listen out for the Summer Constellations Song, a tongue- twisting ride through the summer night’s sky set to music from ‘The Pirates of Penzance’ by Gilbert and Sullivan.
The lyrics were written by David Ault, a multi-talented astrophysicist, ‘Mercenary Artist’ and former full-time presenter at the Thinktank planetarium. The song was performed by Enchant, an award winning chamber group, of which Colin is a member.
Our next show was Earth, Moon & Sun, suitable for all ages, with a great balance of science and fun. We learnt about lunar phases and eclipses through the misconceptions and mistakes made by our guide, Coyote. The children in the audience particularly loved this show, which means it was a great way for them to learn without realising. You can download classroom activities based on the show form the Thinktank’s website.
The Planetarium also has a series of shows especially linked to the National Curriculum, as well as a full catalogue of shows available for group bookings. And for any Pink Floyd fans out there, Thinktank Planetarium is presenting a series of evening shows featuring the music of Pink Floyd, accompanied by psychedelic effects and visuals. But, you need to hurry, as it looks like these shows are selling fast.
If you want to find out more about Thinktank, Birmingham’s Science Museum, take a look at our blog.
Please Note: the planetarium is closed one day a month for maintenance (or for the
occasional private booking), so make sure you check the website before you visit.