A celestial voyage at the Academy 

The curious combination of Whoopi Goldberg and top astrophysicists works very well at the California Academy of Sciences’ Morrison Planetarium.

Goldberg’s folksy, down-to-Earth narration ameliorates the complex, mind-blowing history of the universe in “Journey to the Stars,” which can be seen at the museum through fall.

It’s good to have a friendly voice to keep you company when reaching back to the beginning of the universe and projecting 5 billion years into the future, when the sun is expected to stop supporting life on Earth.

The setting and visuals are spectacular projected onto the world’s largest all-digital dome, 75 feet in diameter.

“Journey” comes from New York’s American Museum of Natural History, but it’s been “localized” by adding opening and closing shots of San Francisco rather than what must have been pictures of Manhattan in the original.

Several museums, NASA and various science organizations collaborated in making the show.

The film begins with the formation of the universe 13 billion years ago, and traces the supernova explosions that sent matter through space, “seeding” the universe. Apparently, we all have substantial traces of that matter in our bodies.

A dive follows into the heart the sun, showing its development, projecting its eventual demise as it transforms into a massive red giant in the future.

While making references to the exploration of space by satellites, all visuals seem to be computer-generated; it would have been interesting to see some actual raw material sent by the satellites.

A bit of logistical information may be helpful for those planning to attend the planetarium show. It is free after paying museum admission, but specific show passes are needed for each of the day’s screenings (there are as many as 10).

On a busy day, you may need to queue up first to get the pass, then again to be admitted to the theater. Expect to spend a half-hour waiting to get into the 40-minute show.

The Academy’s Benjamin Dean Astronomy Lectures will give audiences a chance to meet some of the scientists who worked on “Journey.”

Speakers include Ben Oppenheimer, astrophysicist at the American Museum of Natural History and curator for the show (in January); Tom Abel, a professor at Stanford University who contributed data and visualizations (February); and Alan Title, solar physicist at Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Center (March).

For more information, visit www.calacademy.org/events.


Journey to the Stars

Morrison Planetarium, California Academy of Sciences, 55 Music Concourse Drive, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco
When: 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $14.95 to $24.95 museum admission
Contact: (415) 379-8000, www.calacademy.org

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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