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BIG BANGS

 
 

Things That Go Bump in the Night...

   

 

  

 

It's all a question of things going bump in space at The Hayden Planetarium's spectacular Cosmic Collisions.  Narrated by Robert Redford and billed as an 'immersive' theater experience, the film (one of those rare NY events that is magically perfect for both children and adults) is projected onto the huge domed ceiling -- quite marvelous to step inside from a peaceful day outside, the thick green of the park and tranquility of Central Park West - inside the Universe as one forgets it is: a violent and brilliant symphony, the strange crashing music and dance of stars and planets.  The show is particularly fascinating because of its interpretative framework -- that of collisions.  Change is the constant here….

There's a terrible beauty about these large celestial objects smashing, crashing and colliding into one another.  One thinks of collisions as inherently perilous, dangerous events, but they can also be fortuitous.  The idea of a comet hitting the Earth is terrifying, but as the show points out, without the meteor that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs some sixty-five million years ago, human life might never have evolved.  The Moon was created in a month when a planetoid struck Earth -- a month is all the time it took for immense fiery pieces of rock to coalesce into our pale, cratered Moon.  And the same collision stunned the Earth into its tilted axis that gave us our seasons, the Moon giving Earth its tides with its gravitational pull.  Even more fortuitous this collision....  As with many phenomena -- natural or manmade -- mathematics lies at the core of things: it's all a question of probability really… the chance of paths crossing, of contact.  Most remarkable of all perhaps is the unproven but entirely credible theory that the subtle gravitational tug from a spaceship might deflect a future comet's orbit and prevent it from slamming into the Earth.  Stranger than fiction....

The most arresting image may well be the brilliant glowing orb of our Sun, imaged by NASA satellites, as it violently ejects streams of charged particles towards the Earth.  This solar wind strikes the Earth's magnetic field and produces the magical lights of the aurora borealis and australis that have lit the polar skies for eons -- one little bang after another.      

 

See: Cosmic Collisions, Hayden Planetarium    


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