Explore space from Earth


The Goto Chronos mechanical-optical projector, one of only 13 in the world, simulates the view from Paynes Prairie in one of several new programs at Sante Fe's Kika Silva Pla Planetarium.

Sun file photo
Published: Thursday, January 31, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 29, 2008 at 6:45 p.m.

On a clear night in Gainesville, when the stars sparkle like beacons against the exquisite darkness of the Florida sky, you can easily imagine the knowing voice of Liam Neeson booming down from the heavens, sharing ancient Jedi wisdom in a lilting Irish accent.

Facts

Kika Silva Pla Planetarium

Santa Fe Community College's planetarium offers a variety of new programs open to the public (see story for titles and times).

Where: Kika Silva Pla Planetarium, Building X, Room 129, Northwest Campus, Santa Fe Community College, 3000 NW 83rd St.

Tickets: $4 ages 13-59, $3 for ages 4-12 and 60 and older, free for ages 3 and younger and patrons with a SFCC ID card; Cosmic concerts are $10 for everyone.

Information: Tickets go on sale 30 minutes before show time and are cash only. Advance tickets are not currently available. For more information, call 395-5381 or visit the SFCC Planetarium website.

But, sadly, Liam is not really part of the sky.

No, to hear the embodiment of Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn enlighten you from above, you'll have to make your way to Santa Fe Community College, buy a ticket and take a seat under the dome in the new Kika Silva Pla Planetarium.

Neeson narrates one of the new programs being offered by the planetarium, which earlier this month unveiled a new, expanded schedule, to help keep up with the high level of interest seen since the facility opened in the fall.

Though it's not enormous by big city standards, the Kika Silva Pla is a state-of-the-art planetarium, says Laurent Pellerin, the facility's director and narrator of the interactive programs on the schedule. (Other programs are made up of pre-recorded content and are presented like movies on the 34-foot dome.)

"There are no other planetariums for 100 miles in either direction, so we try to provide full-dome movies and interactive, educational shows," he said. "Down the road, we'll try to bring in the best shows from other planetariums." The schedule will change regularly and they will build up a library of programs, he added.

The facility itself is much more intimate than a big-city planetarium experience. With only 64 seats, it has the feel of a dome-covered classroom, and lends itself to the give and take of Pellerin's interactive shows. Indeed, Pellerin uses the planetarium as a teaching aid for a number of different disciplines at SFCC and for area elementary schools.

So just what is available to local astronomers and stargazers at the Kika Silva Pla? Here's a look at what's just blasted off:

"Black Holes: The Other Side of Infinity":

Produced by the Denver Planetarium, this 30-minute film uses impressive computer generation to simulate the birth and death of stars, the creation of black holes, and the formation of the universe. This is the show that Neeson narrates, adding more than a touch of drama to phrases such as "26 thousand light years of galactic dust" and "secrets stolen from the other side of infinity."

The film is very effective in explaining complicated concepts to the casual astronomer. A super massive black hole, for instance, appears to be a giant cosmic drain that sucks up all the planets, meteors and other space debris in the area. Where all that stuff goes after it's sucked into the drain is hard to figure, but Liam is probably saving that information for the sequel.

Schedule: Saturdays at 5 p.m., runs 30 minutes. Only 30 seats available.

"Zula Patrol: Under the Weather":

This is a children's matinee, based on the educational TV series "Zula Patrol," which airs on PBS. It's essentially a 30-minute cartoon that follows some truly bizarre characters through the solar system while at the same time dispensing assorted informational tidbits ("Martian sandstorms are five miles high!" exclaims what appears to be an orange egg with three eye-tentacles).

The plot pits the good guys, which include the orange egg, a pink creature that talks like John C. Reilly, and two talking ice-cream cones with wings, against the bad guy, a cross-dressing potato knish with Tammy Faye Baker-style makeup who does 1940s Hollywood impressions. It's an epic battle to find a space gem called the "Kabooby Ruby," and it's all a lot of fun, and probably best for kids up to about first grade.

Schedule: Saturdays at 3 p.m., 30 seats available, runs 30 minutes.

"Southern Nights":

Pellerin emcees this interactive session that incorporates the basics of astronomy and astrology and allows the audience to participate, ask questions and even share some of their own knowledge.

Unlike the pre-recorded programs, this one incorporates the planetarium's Goto Chronos mechanical-optical projector, one of only 13 in the world. (This cutting-edge contraption recently required a technician to come all the way from Japan to repair it.)

The show simulates the view from Payne's Prairie, and Pellerin changes the content weekly, so visitors can come more than once and each time enjoy a unique experience.

Schedule: Fridays nights at 7 p.m., runs 1 hour, 64 seats available.

"Night Spirits: Native American Star Lore":

This show is closest to Pellerin's heart, and one he has been refining for years. Part Native American himself and a student of native history and culture, he incorporates stories, concepts and ancient astronomical beliefs into the 1 hour and 5 minute program.

Under the projected night sky, Pellerin tells stories about various tribes, including the Sioux, who saw a constellation called Nape, the Hand in the stars that Europeans called Orion, and the Dakota, who viewed the sky as a reflection of the Earth.

"I try to make it a comprehensive show," he says.

Schedule: Saturdays at 7 p.m., 64 seats available, runs 65 minutes.

"Cosmic Concert: Sounds of the Underground":

Don't expect any constellations or physics in this show; just a thumping beat and hundreds of trippy images. You almost expect the Roxbury Guys from "Saturday Night Live" to appear on the dome, bobbing their heads and rubbing their noses. But instead viewers see a variety of colors, 3-D shapes and psychedelic fish creatures coming at them fast and furious.

Four different 15-minute shows are available, and the crowd on hand chooses the three that will be shown. The choices are Anthems, Drums and Bass, Classic and Planet X. Choose carefully, and be ready for some high-decibel entertainment.

Schedule: Friday and Saturday nights at 9, 30 seats available, about 45 minutes.

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