Gate’s Own World Wonder

Seven Wonders, the show now airing in Ho Tung Visualization Lab & Planetarium in the Robert H. N. Ho Science Center, goes backwards in time and outwards in space through its in-depth look at the wonders of our universe.

The free hour-long program is split into two parts, with the first half serving as an introduction to the sky. Eventually, students will host all of the shows, but for now, Senior Visualization Lab Designer and Technician Joe Eakin alternates between three Colgate students.

At a mid-day show last Saturday, Eakin activated his computer, and suddenly, the night sky appeared on the screen, stretching 33 feet across the dome, arcing over the 55 plush, reclining seats (the fifth row offers the best, most unobstructed view). Within the first few minutes of the program, it was easy to see what makes the Visualization Lab a state-of-the-art facility, and one of the few in the world like it: the sky shows planets, stars and constellations as they appear at any date and time in history.

“The lab works in real time, which allows us to be able to control the sky on the fly,” Eakin said.

Eakin began by orienting the audience with the sky as it moved overhead, reminding those who suffer from motion sickness to close their eyes if they felt dizzy. Eakin’s introduction was part astronomy lesson, part stand-up comedy: he illuminated the planets, the North Star and Ursa Major as he asked the crowd to turn off cell phones because “only ET is allowed to phone home!”

For those unfamiliar with the sky, and for children, this introduction provides a basic sky illustration of the constellations as well as a discussion of some of the cultural folklore behind them. For each constellation, lines are superimposed on the screen to connect the individual stars, and then even more detailed drawings appear, simplifying the stargazing.

For those with more experience with the night sky, however, this introduction may have been a bit repetitive.

“[That] part of the show was a bit childish and was probably more suited for a younger audience, since it looked like children designed the animations,” junior Ryan McClelland said.

Eakin ended his introduction with a challenge to explore the real night sky, and the feature presentation began on the screen above, combining photographs and computer animation.

As Seven Wonders started by explaining that seven was a magical number because there were seven bodies in space that could be seen by the naked eye, we embarked on an exploration of the seven wonders of the ancient world. We began with the Great Pyramids, the only wonder surviving today, and moved to Babylon’s mythic Hanging Gardens, Greece’s Temple of Artemis and Alexandria’s lighthouse. Each structure was connected in some way to the context of the modern world; for example, we learned that the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. was built based on the Greek’s statue of Zeus. The dome operates as a movie screen during this part of the film, and adds to the experience when the camera pans back to reveal the tremendous scope of the buildings.

The part of Seven Wonders that explores space, however, is much better suited to the Visualization Lab screen. During this portion of the show, we flew through constellation of Taurus into the Crab Nebula, the wreckage of a star explosion, to see the inner Crab Pulsar rotating and emitting radio waves into deep space. We hovered outside of Eta Carinae, the most massive star ever to be studied, and as we penetrated the surrounding hourglass of nebula, we learned that scientists are counting down until it explodes in a supernova. Most spectacularly, we circled Saturn and its moons, and as the shot lowered into one of its rings, we saw that they are not solid, but instead made of constantly shifting icebergs the size of cars.

When Seven Wonders gets it right, the Visualization Lab is a tremendous asset.

“It’s amazing that we have such a unique resource at our school and that the Visualization Lab can serve as a classroom and an entertainment center,” junior Sarah Finn said.

“I would recommend taking advantage of this resource at least once during your Colgate career,” sophomore Sara Ascheim said.