Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Planetariums, Stars and Spacecraft..

In today's society, we spend a significant proportion of our lives staring at television and computer screens trying to keep up with the world. By doing this we often forget to look at our own planet, especially the sky. If you're new to physics and all this space-y stuff (as I am), then a planetarium is a great way to explore the skies and learn about the feats of mankind in exploring the planets, whilst remaining warm.

I was lucky enough to visit two planetariums whilst on a recent trip to Newcastle and both were equally fabulous. First, I visited the Centre for Life which I have mentioned in a previous blog post, where I watched a short film titled 'Back to the Moon for Good'. The film faded in to millions of stars and you felt like you were floating in outer space, miles away from civilisation. Amazing graphics took you on a journey through the cosmos and told you the story of the first moon landing and why no one has been back since.

Google Lunar XPRIZE
Debts and austerity mean days of exploring planets are the last thing on governments minds as obviously getting to the moon isn't the most cost-effective enterprise. However, the Google Lunar XPrize, initiates the  race to the moon once again. 33 teams from all over the world must build a spacecraft which can successfully land on the moon, travel 500 metres across the surface and send images back to Earth. The best part? The teams expenses must be no more than 10% government funded, meaning getting to the moon on a budget! Who knows, one of these teams may revolutionise rocket building as we know it and design a cheaper way of sending spacecraft into orbit, meaning more missions could take place. Exciting stuff. The deadline of the competition is December 31st 2015 which really isn't that far away. It's brilliant that people from all over the world can have a go at sending something they have designed themselves into the skies. Many teams rely on volunteers to aid the success of their project, and it gives a chance for people not originally from the field of physics to get involved. The film showed that one team member was a neuroscientist who compared the building of a rocket to the human brain and all the processes that go on are delicately intertwined. I cannot convey how much it made me want to be a physicist (and this is coming from a chemist). The winning team will receive the grand prize of  $20 million and I imagine will go down in history. Since watching the film, I've been reading a lot about the respective teams and all of them have chosen different ways of approaching the challenge and comprise of different scientists and engineers from different fields; it's truly inspiring.

Whilst also in the North-East, I visited the Great North museum, previously the Hancock, which also blew me away with it's planetarium. You have to pay for the planetarium at this venue, but it's not expensive at all. I paid £1.95 for a film titled 'Dawn of the Space Age' which was around 40 minutes long. Not bad at all, and totally worth it! In 'Dawn of the Space Age' you relive space exploration, starting from the first time an artificial satellite was launched, through the space race where the Soviet Union and the USA battled to see who could get into space first. The Soviets won with the launch of Sputnik 1 in October 1957, and the battle continued to outdo each other, resulting in the USA's Apollo 11 landing in 1969, whereby the first humans set foot on the moon. As someone who has only recently developed an interest in space and doesn't really know much about space travel, it was enlightening and entertaining to be taken through the growth and advancements of spacecraft through the ages. Being the feminist that I am, I only have one issue with the film and that was that much emphasis was placed on the first man on the moon, but not on the first woman in space. Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman in space and was on board the Soviet's 'Vostok 6' which launched 16th June 1963. The Great North has many other planetarium shows available to watch and I thoroughly recommend visiting any planetarium. Learning about space is fascinating and opens up so many questions that you want to find the answers to. It's great if you're an inquisitive individual.

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