starry city nights no. 8: john c. wells planetarium

When I sat down with my notes to write this entry, I couldn’t read a dang thing. Why? Because I took notes in the dark. I wrote words on top of words and am now relying on my memory for most of the details. HA. And Brandy. She quietly held her camera in her lap and snapped away at the dome, wishing upon one of those zillion stars that even one picture would turn out. A writer and a photographer in the dark. Whose idea was this?? Brandy’s totally paranoid about the photos you see here, but, God bless her, I think she did pretty darn well, and I expect to see LOTS of complimentary comments about her work, thankyouverymuch.

The John C. Wells Planetarium at JMU has FREE shows on Saturdays at 2:30 and 3:30. (Click here for details.) The 2:30 show is geared more toward younger kids, so the six of us attended that one. The planetarium has theater seats and, obviously, a domed ceiling that acts as a huge screen. The first half of the show we saw was a cartoon about Orion. Sweet (ultra-violent), romantic (obsessive) Orion, who has to slay beasts for his love, Merope, who is the daughter of the king of Chios. The king (who, by the way, in the cartoon, looks just like Ben Stein) gets sick of Orion’s constant attempts to “win” Merope’s favor (thankfully the cartoon glosses over all the violent stuff he did) and poisons him, causing Orion to go blind. Then he drifts, lost at sea, for miles and miles until he lands on Lemnos and is ultimately healed by Helios.

From there he goes to Crete, meets Artemis, and totally forgets Merope ever existed. Artemis is the Goddess of the Hunt and has no feet.

Does that sound strange?

I thought so, too, but none of the women in the cartoon have feet. Their legs just taper down to points. There’s gotta be symbolism somewhere in THAT.

Anyway, Orion and Artemis get along smashingly. The climax of the film occurs when Orion turns into a ninja. At least, that’s what I think my notes say. I also think I wrote the words “Matrix-style,” but I can’t be sure. And something about a scorpion. And Orion DIES!  Artemis memorializes him in the heavens as the constellation you see today.

Oh, yes. I TOTALLY see it.

After the cartoon, the second half of the show started and this massive stellar projector with more than a hundred lenses and mirrors called the “GOTO Cronus Star Ball” rose up like a monolith in the middle of the floor.

The host, Dr. Shanil Varani, demonstrated several cool things. He showed us what’s currently visible in the night sky from the good ‘ole Burg, which includes Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Mercury (!), and even Saturn. Wow! If you want a better view of the heavens while there’s so much to see, you can attend one of the FREE Public Star Parties held on the last Friday of each month in the meadow behind the Physics/Chemistry building. The next one is March 30, and you can like them on Facebook to get updates and make sure it hasn’t been called off for bad weather.

*As a side note, I have to confess that my spelling skills don’t work in the dark and I wrote “Pubic Star Party” in my notes. BAH!

Getting back on track, Shanil talked a lot about light pollution, which not only hurts one’s ability to see the constellations, but all that light at night is just a waste of electricity. Definitely an important point. The most meaningful part for me, however, was when he displayed the planets and talked about their size. We all know the sun is gigantic compared to the planets (a million Earths can fit inside the sun), even though the sun is not a huge star. And a thousand Earths can fit inside Jupiter–the largest planet.

But what really moved me, I admit, is that as large and looming and impressive and popular as Jupiter is, it’s commonly referred to as a “failed star” because of its size. Even JUPITER is too small… it doesn’t have the mass necessary for stardom. And so when I think of the failures in my own teeny tiny human life that I think are SO massive and so… irrevocable, I remember Jupiter… the laughing stock of the solar system.

Now that’s an ego check.

2 thoughts on “starry city nights no. 8: john c. wells planetarium

  1. What a great write-up! Thanks so much for coming to one of our shows and taking the time to blog about! FANTASTIC! btw, to learn more about the dire consequences of light pollution, I invite you and your friends to please come see our special FREE screenings of the critically-acclaimed documentary THE CITY DARK!

    • Dr. Varani! I was going to email you Monday morning and let you know about the post. I’m so glad you stumbled upon it on your own! I would like to see The City Dark. I’m going to check out the times and promote it on our ilovemyburg FB page. We look forward to visiting again!

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