PacSci Perspectives


Experience an Immersive Adventure to the Earth’s Poles in our Planetarium

by Rekha Olsen | September 5, 2018

Planetarium Show The Willard Smith Planetarium has hosted thousands of people since it was installed in our campus in 1977. Since then, it has been updated with new technology that allows participants to visually travel from the Puget Sound to the edge of the visible universe. However, while many of our shows are about space, we are now bringing guests a new show that is a little closer to home. While many may think of planetariums simply as a means for space education, they are in fact quite versatile in that they are able to convey information both about space and the earth. In the case of our newest show, our planetarium is proving to be the perfect medium for educating viewers about the earth’s Arctic Poles.

Dave Cuomo, our Planetarium Supervisor, has taken years of research and the work of a number of fellows at the University of Washington to put together a planetarium show about the earth’s poles. These fellows are part of our Science Communication Fellowship program and, according to Dave, have greatly changed the show’s trajectory with their research and input.

The Arctic Poles, which are changing rapidly due to global climate change, are home to many fascinating species and geographical features. They are also important because changes in the poles affect all other parts of the world. In his words, “Earth is a complex system with multiple forces such as currents, air and tides in play – changes in the poles affect all of us!”

The idea for this show was developed in 2015 when Dave was contacted by a University of Washington polar science researcher, Harry Stern, who was hoping to combine his research and knowledge of the poles with accessible technology. They worked with our Vice President of Science Engagement and Outreach to write a National Science Foundation grant, and were awarded the grant in July 2017. They also joined forces with a number of research fellows at the University of Washington, who added new dimensions and insights to the show.

At this point, the whole team faced the momentous task of actually creating and writing the show. Dave recalls focusing on three main components of the show’s production: writing the script, creating animations and imagery to accompany it, and incorporating the fellows’ research into the show. Overall, they wanted it to be a completely immersive experience that would allow participants to feel as if they were actually traveling to the poles and moving through time.

According to Dave, a show about what is happening to the poles is incredibly important and relevant for people to see. While global warming is often talked about in broad terms, many people still fail to understand the true extent of the problem. That is why Dave and his team decided to create this show in the planetarium – so that people would be able to visualize the effects of climate change on the poles in an immersive way. Three years later, our planetarium is offering Earth: Pole to Pole in our rotating schedule. Come see for yourself the hard work our team put into creating a show from scratch, and get an in-depth lesson on this important topic.

Click here for our daily schedule of Planetarium shows. We hope to see you soon!

Learn more about this new show in this quick PacSci Podcast: