Connecting the Pale Blue Dot
It is interesting to know that Cassini Imaging team leader Carolyn Porco was involved, along with Sagan, in initiating and executing the famous "Pale Blue Dot” image of Earth taken by NASA’s Voyager 1 from beyond the orbit of Neptune on January 14, 1990.
For me, that evening in July, "The Day the Earth Smiled,” had yet another impressive aspect. I was in South Tyrol/Northern Italy that day and it was the night before the opening of a new planetarium. Just an hour before the picture was taken, I was sitting under the 8-m dome of that planetarium, looking back to Earth in stereoscopic 3D through the magnificent ring system of Saturn. Breathtaking! Yes, I had both perspectives.
Using our wonderful tools
This was a special example as to what we as planetarians can do with our great tools. Independent of dome size, we can put discoveries and events in perspective and offer new perspectives on our world. Just imagine what wonderful stories you are able to tell around that image alone to people of all ages.
Yes, I am also a big fan of a beautiful night sky and analog star projectors, but in the interest of our mission to educate people about who and where we are in this ever-more exciting cosmic landscape, real-time simulations in a digital planetarium offer us breathtaking and boundless opportunities to change perspective and understand our world in a bigger context. Let us use them wisely, and especially in connection with real sky and space events.
The IPS Council meeting in South Tyrol, Italy, August 9-10, 2013 Photo by F.M. Arndt
IPS Council in South Tyrol
Speaking of South Tyrol and education: the brand new South Tyrol Planetarium is the location where IPS Council gathered August 9-10. This site is a very interesting model for science education, because it is a vital part of the so-called "planet school” which serves people of all ages in the valley near Bolzano. It combines kindergarten and elementary school with library and planetarium.
Its "planet academy” will also excel as a "summer school for planetarians,” where planetarians from different countries will be allowed to apply to learn how to operate a planetarium and create educational planetarium content. This European site for professional development will benefit from the expertise and support of IPS.
More about this interesting project and plenty of other results from our IPS Council meeting will be published in my December message.
By then, you will know who will be the host for the IPS 2016 conference. It was a tough choice again. There were three excellent bids: Telus World of Science (Edmonton/Canada), Cite Espace (Toulouse/France) and Kopernikus Science Center (Warsaw/Poland).
(The bid from Kopernikus Science Center was selected.)
I urge the two bidders who did not succeed to consider presenting a new bid at IPS 2014 for hosting IPS in 2018.
IPS 2014 in China
The next IPS conference is less than a year away. On June 23-27, 2014 we will convene in China and experience the hospitality of Beijing Planetarium. Along with IPS 2012 host Jon Elvert, I had the privilege of visiting the site in Beijing just a few weeks ago as I write this, and I can tell that you that Dr. Jin Zhu and his wonderful team in Bejing are great hosts and ready to welcome you.
What I experienced in Beijing was indeed most impressive. From the moment of arrival at the beautiful new airport onwards I felt safe, comfortable and was surprised how many people spoke English. It was much easier to get around than I thought and people were very friendly and welcoming.
The conference hotel is in walking distance from Beijing Planetarium, where most of the conference activities will take place. Only the business meeting will be at the hotel itself.
A physical symbol for the envisioned conference theme of "The Future of Education Under the Dome” the outstanding ensemble of Beijing Planetarium combines a classic-style planetarium with a futuristic multi-theater building complex.
Both large dome theaters will be made available exclusively for the conference all week. This allows for enough dome time not just for vendor demonstrations using immersive technologies, but also for presentations by planetarium educators from around the world highlighting best practice examples in teaching under the dome.
In addition to these large domes, there is a 200-seat, 180-degree "panoramic theater,” a 4D theater and several other venues, exhibit areas and meeting rooms which allow for all types of sessions and social interactions during our conference.
Working out the details
The exhibition area will be set up in a separate and temporary structure adjacent to the planetarium. During our site visit we discussed with our host and representatives of several major vendors many details, terms and conditions for bringing projectors and other items into China and setting them up onsite.
Clearly outlining the procedures and boundary conditions both for large and small vendors is what is vital to make this endeavor work.
As I am writing this message, the resulting brochure with the respective information is being sent to all vendors.
We can expect probably 100 participants from China alone and hopefully a lot of others from the Asian-Pacific region. Our host assured us that there will be service for Chinese-English and English-Chinese translation during our sessions and in the vendor area.
This will be important and especially interesting, because one highlight and focus of IPS 2014 will be cultural astronomy, with Asian and Chinese astronomy being of particular interest. For example, did you know that there are 800 constellations and several different zodiacs?
Even outside of the planetarium and the old historic observatory, there is so much to see in Beijing alone which can be connected to our field. You should not miss the Forbidden City with its breathtaking layout, size and astronomical significance, and there is so much more.
Today’s interest of Chinese families and kids in exploring and learning about space technologies and science is most impressive. We witnessed that when Dr. Jin Zhu took us to a science week festival with thousands of people engaged in activities.
Thus, we are exploring options for having also a lecture or event for the public as part of our conference and possibly Chinese astronauts (Taikonauts) as keynote speakers along with representative from major astronomy and space science projects in the Pacific.
There will be fascinating options for pre- and post-conference tours, which will include the amazing Science Center in Macao with its record-breaking 8k 3D planetarium, and the Hong Kong Science Center/Planetarium with wonderful exhibit areas devoted to international space flight and astronomy, plus the amazing astropark with observatory located at an UNESCO heritage site/geopark.
Our hosts will be providing letters of invitation ahead of time for those who need to apply for visas. Please check with your travel agent or the embassy early on to find out what you may need. The conference website will also give you the latest information.
Details will be posted online soon and included in a September/October mailing to all IPS members. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate and contact me or my fellow officers.
Two new ad hoc committees which I recently launched are now active and will serve our community.
The mission of the Science and Data Visualization Task Force, chaired by Dr. Mark SubbaRao, is to streamline the process of going from data to dome, increasing the potential for scientific communication and storytelling in the planetarium. The task force will undertake initiatives aimed at:
- Preparing planetariums for the massive stream of data that will come from next generation telescopes, satellites, experiments and computational simulations.
- Creating professional development opportunities aimed at developing more "data savvy” planetarians.
- Developing and promoting best practices for data visualization in the dome.
- Encouraging the visualization of a wide range of scientific data in the dome (moving beyond astronomy).
- Advocating for the inclusion of dome visualization tools in standard scientific analysis and visualization packages.
- Encouraging planetariums to make their facilities available to researchers from their communities to use as a visualization tool.
Mark’s international team will include such major players from the field of "big data” as NAOJ and ESO. Please visit the website of the committee for contact information and more. He is planning to give some more insights into the mission in the December issue of our journal.
With great pleasure I can also announce the new IPS Planetarium Design and Operation Committee, chaired by Ian McLennan.
Ian will give our "So You Want to Build a Planetarium” guideline an overhaul and make significant updates in the form of a living web document. In doing so, he will make clear that staffing and operation planning in any planetarium project needs to be a prime focus early on.
Both committees will run sessions at the conference in 2014.
All this adds to a busy schedule, not just for me but for the whole group of officers and volunteers in IPS. I hope to meet as many as possible of you in person during one of the upcoming regional meetings and at fulldome festivals at Imiloa, Japan or Russia.
As always, onwards and upwards!
Thomas W. Kraupe