Did you know that while our Western culture has traditionally seen shapes in the stars by joining the points of light, many other cultures see shapes in the dark spaces between the points of light? The Sydney Observatory is a bit like that, it’s defined more by what isn’t there than by what is. There’s no big planetarium, no huge telescope, no Imax screen. But the smaller versions are friendly, accessible and engaging.
We went along to a family pizza evening. The commercial pizza was nothing to write home about but the kids gobbled it up without complaint. Once we were past the meal it was down to the meat of the evening. All the visitors were divided amongst three groups, the groups then rotated between three activities: the planetarium, the telescope, and the 3D cinema. It’s a practical way of getting a lot of people through the evening, but really having fewer people would have been a better call as the telescope in particular cannot be sensibly covered in 20 minutes.
Our group was led by a wonderfully enthusiastic astronomer with a line in bad jokes that the kids appreciated. We started with the planetarium. Now this is no big-budget production inside an enormous dome. Basically you’re sitting under a large umbrella while the astronomer manipulates the projector by hand. That, it turns out, is not a bad thing at all. The big budget domes we’ve visited, in Washington for example, are polished shows on a big screen. This was friendly and a great way to get questions answered.
The telescope was next in line. Even though it was still quite early, Jupiter was available for viewing. Most of the kids got a chance to see the planet and its moons through the big telescope, but there wasn’t time for the adults to take a look which was, it must be said, frustrating. The frustration was considerably lessened by the wonderful room which houses the telescope – it was fascinating seeing the copper-clad dome open and the whole room rotate while watching the exposed gear-mechanism.
The final stop was the 3D movie theatre. I don’t know that there was much point to the movie being 3D (when is there?); but a movie about exploration of Mars was pretty interesting, particularly when augmented by information from our resident Astronomer. It wasn’t a long showing, which was probably just as well as the kids were beginning to tire as we were now past their bed-time.
All-in-all it was a fun and interesting evening, and it left us all wanting more of everything except the pizza.