Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Sagan Planetarium

by Bixyl Shuftan

Probably the best known astronomy-themed place in Second Life is the International Space Museum. But there are others. One notable place to learn a little more about the planets and stars is the Sagan Planetarium, high above the Aspen sim. The location is named for Carl Sagan, a 20th Century astronomer and author best known for co-writing and narrating the 1980 TV series "Cosmos."

The first room people see is the gift shop. One can grab one of a few t-shirts, a model Hubble Telescope or V-2 rocket, or a small or large orrey (a mechanical model of the Solar System). There's also a donation meter one can chip into to help keep the place going. Upstairs is where things start to get more interesting. There are models of three historical craft, Germany's V-2 rocket, the first man-made object to technically make it into space, Russia's Sputnik, the first artificial satellite, and the Hubble Telescope from the United States. Under each is a panel with some information about the historic objects.

Also on the second floor is a display of the sun and the eight planets, from Mercury to Neptune, and some of their moons. Each has panels of information in front of them. Clicking on one of the planets, one sees a cross-section. Each of the planets is unique in some way from Venus' runaway greenhouse effect to Saturn's large rings to Uranus' odd axial tilt.

There's also a panel explaining how the definition of a planet has changed. For thousands of years, humanity has known five planets other than Earth. Then with better telescopes, two more were discovered. For decades after it's discovery, Pluto was considered a ninth planet. But with the discovery of a larger body beyond it's orbit, astronomers met to agree on an official definition, and Pluto was "demoted" to being one of several "dwarf planets." This was not a definition everyone agreed with, and some still consider Pluto a planet.

The main room of the planetarium shows a model of the solar system, the planets orbiting the Sun. It's not quite to scale so the worlds can be more easily seen. One can also get the room to change from the model and play one of three shows, "Tour of the Planets," "Apollo on the Moon," and "The Moons of the Solar System."

Outside the planetarium, is a small park area. The main feature is a huge outdoor orrey that shows not only the eight planets, but also the dwarf planets Ceres and Pluto and many of the planets' moons. The planetarium is not the only place on this large platform above the sim. Beside the park area it sits in, there's a laser tag arena.

For space fans, a place worth visiting.

Bixyl Shuftan

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