Albuquerque Tribune, April 10, 2001, Tuesday Pg. C2; Editorial

New Mexico Public Planetarium Promotes Naturalism


Take a trip into space at the new planetarium

In a state that makes its living off world-class research and development, it's amazing how little fundamental science many of us know.

It was a bit stunning, for example, that a few years ago there was a concerted effort in Santa Fe by the state Board of Education to dilute the teaching of biological evolution in the state's public schools by allowing the teaching of creationism, which is belief, not science.

People seemed surprised when physicists, astronomers and chemists sprang to the defense of their life science fellows, demanding that the state stick with a strong factual base in its scientific curriculum.

But the truth is this had little to do with professionals closing ranks. It had much to do with the simple reality that the sciences are intertwined, and that, conceptually, evolution is fundamental to all of them.

If you want to see this idea in action, literally, go see the compelling "Wonders of the Universe," now playing at the Lodestar Planetarium at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science. You'll get it, and you won't be bored.

The planetarium staff, this original program developer, consultants and advisers including the Lodestar astronomers from the University of New Mexico deserve praise for bringing such cutting-edge science education and entertainment to a state with world-class scientific institutions.

Here's a chance to see and be awed by what scientists know and study, in this case the natural world beyond the Earth. It's informative. It's intriguing. It's entertaining. And it's cool.

Aside from the program's breathtaking three-dimensional imagery and its accompanying grand musical score, "Wonders" gives overwhelming insight into the immensity of the universe; the solitude of the void of intergalactic space; and the evolution of celestial bodies over vast periods of time, such as our home Milky Way Galaxy, the solar system and that teeny lifeboat Earth.

Without being bombarded with hard-core equations or technical terms, you'll get a firm grounding in the core scientific principle of cosmic evolution without necessarily shattering any spiritual beliefs you might have. In fact, this show might strengthen them.

Along the way, you'll whirl by colliding galaxies of billions of stars, through the core of an expanding supernova remnant and into the pitch black dust clouds out of which worlds like Earth were formed eons ago.

And if you go to the planetarium in the evening when its sister facility, the Lodestar observatory, is open, definitely go have a peek through a professional-quality 16-inch telescope.

Depending on the time of year and evening, you might see a nebula; a globular star cluster; the whirling Andromeda Galaxy, the orbiting moons of Jupiter or the rings of Saturn. All are treats to our Earthbound eyes.

Don't be shy. Ask the observatory docent usually a UNM astronomy student how far away is Saturn? Or how do we think those rings evolved around this gas planet, but not around rocks like Earth or Mars? Or how is that those rings stay so perfectly symmetrical year after year after year?

Or how long it will take the sun to expand into a red giant star and blow the Earth and its sometimes arrogant occupants to smithereens?

If you want to impress the kids, ask the question this way: Won't it take between 4 billion and 5 billion years for the Earth to evolve into oblivion?

Be ready for a world-class answer.


Copyright 2001 Albuquerque Tribune. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.
Filel Date: 4.16.01

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