PHOTOESSAY OF THE HAYDEN PLANETARIUM - 50-59 of 60 ------------------------------------------------ John Pazmino NYSkies Astronomy Inc www.nyskies.org email@example.com 2000 May 10
SESSION 50 - 1999 JULY 7 ---------------------- This, the 7th of July, a Wednesday, was the first day of relief from a torrid heatstorm. The storm centered on the 4th of July weekend with temperatures nicking 40c with 100% relative humidity. During the night of July 5-6 the air cooled off to 'only' 30C. I grabbed this day to visit the site being that I'm going on holiday on Friday and Thursday may be busy at work. Before getting into today's session I thank the many readers who pointed out some silly errors in session 49 from June 15. Yes, there is only one subway I spoke of and its the 81st, like in 'eighty-first', Street station. I made the corrections in the archival copies of the photoessays. [This is corrected in this edition of the photoessay.] A couple readers, apparently newer ones, asked what is a 'two- seat' ride. Am I that fat? No. It means a ride requiring two trains with a change at Columbus Circle. Thus I sit on one seat in the first train and on an other seat in the second train. (A one-seat ride means that I rode a single train, sitting on one seat, straight to the Planetarium.) The heatstorm brought some havoc to the City. One was an electric power outage in the panhandle of Manhattan, covering Coogan's Bluff. This severed the northern termini of the Independent, causing wholesale reroutes thruout that system. Thus at 13:00 EDST I rode from Herald Square to the Museum by a single train, a one-seat ride. The train was a reroute due to the power shutdown. I arrived at the Planetarium at 13:20 EDST. The ride was a bit longer on account of trains being juggled around. The sky was clear blue with only a few small cirrus clouds around the horizon. There was a continuous soft breeze that carried off the dampness of sweat from my face. I wore my windbreaker, tho I was definitely warm in it, for its pockets to carry my camera and monocular. The site was quiet like on previous occasions but there was a major difference. The box looked much smoother than before and more finished. Yep, one of the workers noted that the glass panels were attached in the last couple of weeks. They looked opaque at first, obscuring everything inside. With the monocular I saw that they merely were reflecting the outside landscape while standing against a mass of scaffolds behind them. The grounds were generally clean, as if sweeped off. There was no major trash or rubbish anywhere. One garbage truck emerged from the grounds by the west gate while I was there, but otherwise there was no vehicle movement. A few workers walked across the site. The trees were so full and dense that the Planetarium is mostly blocked from 81st Street. Even from the gates overhanging branches poked into my view. But this umbration shaded me from the Sun and induced cool breezes. The streets and park were alive with people soaking up the air following several days of unescapable sauna. The dogs and runners were desporting in the dogrun. After about 20 minutes I headed back to the station but an Eighth Avenue bus slided into the bus stop. I took it back to Penn Station. On the way I looked over the streetlight replacement in Broadway. The work seems to be going slowly or even maybe paused. About the same progress was evident now as a month or so ago, with one or two new poles in place. After debarking at Penn Station I stopped for lunch in Herald Square and then went back to my office.
SESSION 51 - 1999 JULY 26 ----------------------- I had to visit the site soon being that in a couple weeks I'm off to see the solar eclipse. So I made up my mind over the past weekend to just go on Monday the 26th of July in 1999. It happened that the City was in the depths of a heatstorm that sent temperatures into the upper 30Cs with quite 100% relative humidity. I set off for the Planetarium at 12:45 EDST on this 26th of July by the one-seat ride from Herald Square. When I arrived at 81st Street station workers were busily finishing up the task of rebuilding the place. There's lots more left to do but enough is done to make the station really pleasant. Of special note was the addition of the IND racing stripe. Queerly, this station and the others on the very first section of the Independent are the most nonIND stations in the system! They lacked that racing stripe! So a new one, thinner than the normal width, is now in place on the lower platform. Because the upper platform has a lower ceiling, the racing strip is set lower on the wall and is interuppted by the large name panels. A bit of nonastronomy history. The Independent set of subway lines, or IND, was designed to embed a color coded map for its stations. The code was in the name plaque and racing stripe. Both are of two colors but reversed from each other. That is, the border color of the name plaque is the field color of the racing tripe, and vice versa. The idea was that a rider could follow the pattern of the colors know where he was on the subway and suss out how to get to his destination. Three monkey wrenches were thrown into the gears. One was that the code was never published! To this very day no one has ever cracked the code and laid out a correct explanation for the colors. This feature of the IND has been used to emphasize the essential impossibility of interpreting extraterrestrial signals. If we can not on Earth figure out something so simple as a set of colors intended for public benefit, how can we ever hope to understand radio broadcasts from totally alien creatures? The second was that the colors were awfully subtile. Altho the 81st St station has 'blue' and 'black' for its colors, they are slightly different from the 'blue' and 'black' of, say, 72nd Street station, the next one going downtown. Yet it is this difference that somehow clues the rider in his journey. A third, modern, monkey wrench is that the stations in the 1960s were fitted with fluorescent lamps. The colors were fitted to the original yellowish incandescent lamps. The new lamps totally distort the colors out of any possible validity. On the street I headed right into the shade of the trees in Roosevelt Park. The Sun was too burning to stay under it. I was in short sleeves yet I perspired briskly even while resting. The heat got to the park denizens, too. They walked slowly or sat on the benches. No fast jogging or running on this dog. The new feature today is the closing off of the west gate on the circular drive. The entry at the street, next to the upper guardhouse, was blocked by a hunk of snow fence. The roadway was newly segregated from the footway by a chest-high stud-&-plywood fence. This walled off the lower guardhouse and gate from approach, yet left the footway fully attached to the paths within the park. For worker access, there is a simple door cut into the fence at about the midpoint. Several workers came and went thru this door. Recall that the circular drive has two concentric paths. The inner one with cobblestones is for vehicles. The outer laid with hexstones is for foot traffic and connects to the paths in Roosevelt Park. The upper guardhouse was crewed. The guards here checked in the workers to enter the site. They chatted with several workers who just left the site. I asked if I may go down to the lower gate. No, the public area is now removed back to this new fence. The cobblestones in the roadway were pulled up and the soil now exposed seemed to be raked or otherwise smoothed out. My view of the structure were vastly diminished. I no longer had the proximity of the western lower gate. Thru the monocular, the panels looked like they were recently cleaned. Reflections of the scenery in them were sharp and clear. A stick crane was busily moving loads around the grounds. The machine was partly obscured by trees and the contractor's original wall so I couldn't tell what was going on. The glass box looks more or less complete. If the outer scaffold were removed, the whole thing would have smooth contours all over. The box was still opaque from the mass of interior framing and scaffolds. Views of the Planetarium from 81st Street were about hopeless. The trees were so thick with leafs that they presented a mostly solid barricade against sightlines from the street. The east gate is now the only adit for motor vehicles. A couple trucks entered the grounds by this gate. Its guardhouse was empty and the trucks rode onto the premises without stopping to check in. The chain at this gate was removed completely. Previously it was hanging loose on the ground. Viewed from this east gate the grounds were overall clean and litter free. Construction material was set out here and there in neat piles. The stick crane, in front of the new car garage, was hidden behind the glass box. Back at the west gate there was a new large billboard within the park. It announces the general rehabilitation by the Parks Department of Roosevelt Park. This is a project separate from the Planetarium and North Side project but is coordinated with it. The heavy work on the Museum campus has to be completed first before major work can begin in the park. Hence, after the Planetarium opens, visitors will be somewhat inconvenienced by construction activity in the park around it for some many more months. The Planetarium may open in February, rather than in spring, of 2000, according to a status report presented by director Dr Neil Tyson. He gave his report, illustrated by slides, at the Moonwalk lawn party on 17 July. This was a program of the Parks Department with the collaboration of the Association and several other space-related interests. The heat was getting the better of me; I quit the site at 13:30. A West End local flew into the subway station almost as I stepped onto the platform and I rode it all the way back to work.
SESSION 52 - 1999 AUGUST 31 ------------------------- Being that I was away for most of August in Turkey for the solar eclipse on 1999 August 11, I squeezed in two visits to the Planetarium. The first, session 51, was on July 26th and this, session 52, was on Tuesday, August 31st. I went to the site by the two-seat ride from Herald Square, arriving there at 12:50 EDST. The air was cool, about 20C, dry, refreshingly breezy. The sky was generally clear with a bright, but not overly brilliant, Sun. I was glad I had my windbreaker and long-sleeve shirt. Yet I was actually very glad for this weather! After all, in Turkey in August the temperature was never less than 35C and it hit 44C on a couple days! The scene at the Planetarium is totally changed! Major construction started within Roosevelt Park, with machinery and piles of dirt all over the place! The park from the east gate of the circular drive all the way to Columbus Av and 79th Street was fenced off with a chainlink fence. The fence was weak, easily toppled, only the uprights were holding the mesh. The top edge, about 2 meters off the ground, was left rough. This fence hemmed in the park at the street. No entry into it was permitted and 'Danger - keep out' signs were posted along the fence every few meters. However, a gate in this fence at the east gate of the circular drive was open and I ambled down to the contractor's wall for my inspection. The guard and I chatted. She noted that the park work began a couple weeks ago but it does not interfere with he work on the Planetarium. Almost all of the original contractor's wall is removed allowing clear sight of the lower portions of the Planetarium from the street. Some of the exterior scaffolding on the glass box was removed. The interior scaffolding still filled the box, making the structure still opaque. There was an idle stick crane at the northwest corner of the Planetarium, near the lower west gate. The scene was quiet. All noise came from activity within the park. A couple Planetarium workers came and went during my visit. No vehicles entered or left the grounds. From 81st Street, the open prospect thru where the contractor's wall stood partly made up for the obscuration of view by the dense leafs on the trees. The trees in the park were caged with laths to prevent accidental damage. This is a standard practice in the City. Trees are assessed for preservation and left in place. Just about everything else in the park is torn up: furniture, lamppoles, paving. The entry at Columbus Avenue and 81st Street is fitted with a chainlink gate. The pillars are beefed up here to support this gate. An other similar gate closed off the entry at the west gate of the circular drive. The chest high wood fence from the last visit is gone and the footpath in this area is all broken up. The dogrun was moved to a temporary site on Columbus Avenue at 79th Street. It's the same size as the old one but has a more substantial fence. Entry is by a double gate, like a canal lock, made of rough lumber and plywood. The dog and its runner are passed thru in two steps such that the two doors are never simultaneously open. Picture taking was not seriously hindered. The mesh on the chainlink fence was loose enough to fit the camera lens. But, of course, all photos were taken from the street with no entree into the park at any point. The guard believes the Planetarium will be open by yearend for shakedown tests and commissioned in February of 2000. With the park work still under way then the approach to the Planetarium will be from only the east gate, which will be paved and curbed in plenty of time, and from within the Museum. The west gate will remain closed due to the park renovation. Apparently, altho the guard did not mention it, this closes off use of the new car garage for the first few months of operation of the new Hayden Planetarium. Road access to it is by this west gate and a new one from 79th St, both within the project frontier of the park. After about a halfhour, at 13:20, I left for work, getting there by the two-seat ride from the 81st Street subway station.
SESSION 52 - 1999 SEPTEMBER 24 ---------------------------- The long interval since the last visit, on 1999 August 31, comes from the erratic weather in the City during September. Days were capriciously sunny or rainy regardless of weather forecasts. On this Friday the 24th of September the day stayed sunny and I scooted up to the Planetarium at 12:30 EDST by the two-seat ride from Herald Square. The temperature was about 25C with no breeze. The Sun was bright in a normal blue sky. I happened to be wearing my hooded jacket, the one from my eclipse trip to Aruba in 1998 February. It was too heavy for today. I left it unzipped. Overall the scene is unchanged from the last visit. There was ongoing construction within the park. Earthmovers were sculpting the ground and all the furniture and fixtures were in disarray or broken up. Due to strong wind in the previous couple days some of the wood cages protecting trees were skewed. These are flimsily made from scrap lumber and nails. In other places where trees are so protected, the cages are left toppled until removed. Probably they'll here stay that way, too. My approach to the grounds was constrained more than last time. The east gate is now closed from the public. At street level the perimeter chainlink fence extended across the circular drive but the swinging door was open. I walked down to the guardhouse where a guard greeted me. She explained that in the last week or so this entry is no longer accessible to the public. She noted the gate was open at the street to allow passage of vehicles, this now being the only adit to the site. She let me linger for a moment to take a picture. The view from the street was open from the previous removal of the contractor's fence and the shade from dense leafs on the trees. While the branches hung low, they left enough sightline for good views. At the time a dumpster was being muscled around in front of the Planetarium. An empty one was shoved bu its truck into the front entry, under the stone arch, of the Planetarium and a full one was pulled out. Eventually while I watched, the truck hauled off the full dumpster thru the east gate and into 81st Street. The cube of the new Planetarium is still filled with scaffolds. It is still generally opaque inside. From colleagues seen at AAA meetings I learned that there is nothing inside that's finished for occupancy, not even temporary quarters for the staff. All Planetarium crew still is officed within the Museum. The new garage next to the Planetarium looks structurally complete. It is still used for laydown and work space for the Planetarium. I did not walk all around the park this time being that it was in total upheaval. I did take a couple photos of the works for context. I found myself on the Columbus Avenue side of the park when I finished my inspection. Rather than go back to the IND station I walked to the 79th Street station of the IRT. The main reason was that I had some errand in West Village to look after and this line goes directly to there. I left the site at 13:30 EDST.
SESSION 54 - 1999 OCTOBER 22 -------------------------- It's been almost a full month since the last visit to the Planetarium, mostly because I was repeatedly busy during lunch. My ladylove has hospital visits in midday and I accompany her. She's doing well and from time to time she doesn't need me. So today, the 22nd of October, I hopped over to the site by the one-seat ride from Herald Square at quite 12:10 EDST, and arrived there at 12:30. The day was mostly cloudy with cumulus congestus, temperature about 20C, and breezy. I was coming off of a sore throat so I wore my winter coat to ward off the breeze and contain any chill that may erupt. It turned out to be too hot in the coat and I left it unzipped. In fact, the general walking about in the fresh air alleviated my illness. The major new feature today was the opening of the west gate to vehicles. The circular drive was repaved with cobbles and recurbed, all part of the overhaul of the Theodore Roosevelt Park fronting 81st Street. Assorted small trucks flew in and out of this gate during my visit. Some were for the Planetarium. Others were for the Park. The guardhouse at street level was relocated to the east or inner side of the circular drive. It was previously between the vehicular and pedestrian roads. I asked the guard if I could go down to the inner gate for a better look at the works. She explained that this here point at street level was the limit of public access and she could not let me enter. So all my viewing, like on the last couple visits, was from the street on 81st Street. The other major change was that the cube, the glass box, is now free of most of the internal scaffolding. It is all transparent and you can see thru it. However, the sphere-in-cube effect is lost being that the rear face of the Planetarium abuts the opaque Museum. Perhaps the lack of Sun with collateral lack of shadow caused this appearance. On a day with strong Sun I'm sure the Hayden Sphere will stand out well. In the Park work was proceding vigorously. Earthmovers were digging around and construction sheds were plopped down all over the place. The noise, tho not offensive, was the loudest I heard from the site in many visits. Workers entered and left thru the west gate continuously. The east gate was open but the public is barred from entering it. There were workers milling around it but they were part of the crew working on the subway station underneath of here. This station, 81st Street on the IND Eighth Avenue line, is about finished with new mechanical and electrical systems, tiling and decorations, lighting, and other conveniences. Some punchlist items were evident. The south adit at 79th Street is still closed. Temporary signs directed all riders to the north end at 81st Street for the Museum. On Central Park West between 80th and 81st Street a sidewalk cut was opened for steam. The crew working on it said they were coupling the steam service to the new Planetarium. As you know, planetaria do use lots af steam and the easiest and cheapest way to supply it is to plug into the mains under the street. With a lingering doubt for the smarts of staying around outdoors with a sore throat and with little more to inspect, I left the site at 13:00 EDST. I arrived back at work by a one-seat ride at 13:15.
SESSION 55 - 1999 DECEMBER 7 -------------------------- As things turned out there was no site visit during all of November. There's no particular cause for this, altho the weather was a bit erratic, making for some rather dissuasive days. So it was on Tuesday, the 7th of December in 1999, that I got to the Planetarium. I left work at 13:00 EST and arrived by the one-seat ride from Herald Square station. The day was sunny, temperature about 5C with a continuous breeze. I had my winter coat zipped up most of the time. The scene was actually little changed from the visit of October 22nd, except that the Planetarium grounds were obviously neater and cleaner. All the structural work is complete, so there were no heavy machinery on the site. With the monocular I noticed odds and end pieces of the Hayden Sphere not yet attached and some parts of the Cube yet unfinished. The garage looked essentially complete with some finishing touches to be completed. The west gate was open and its guardhouse was crewed. Delivery trucks constantly came and went all during my visit. The guard checked papers and waved them thru. The public area is still at street level; I was advised not to enter the gate. The east gate was locked but a cement truck (a truck for mixing and carrying cement) was churning its load on the circular drive. It was preparing concrete for the work in the park, not the Planetarium. The entire park was totally in turmoil from the renovations. It may, if this pace keeps up, be at least livable by the time the Planetarium opens. But there is no planned synchronism between the two projects. With the Sun hanging over the Planetarium by the early hour I arrived there, about 13:20 EST, and the lack of foliage on the tress, my views were severely impeded. Now last winter I had the advantage of carefully selected trees and poles to shield me and my camera. These were still in place. The new impediment was the tall chainlink fence along the frontage on 81st Street. Backlighted by the Sun is made a white-silver grillage over my entire visual field! Even from the sheltering spots the grillage crisscrossed over the scene. That's because the fence stood between the Planetarium and most of these spots. Yet I did get several shots of the place altho I suspect some will be spoiled by solar intrusion. With a bright Sun in the sky the Hayden Sphere stood out plainly from the background of the Museum. The tripod of struts so cleverly masked by the stone archway really give the illusion that the ball is floating inside the cube. I'm writing this essay on December 18th. Just before then I had the chance to pass by the Museum at night. A bunch of New York astronomers went to Central Park after that afternoon's Observing Group meeting to check out the stars and an Iridium flare. Following that I and an other member took a bus to Lincoln Square with a transfer at the Museum. So we stopped to see the Planetarium, which is right near the bus stop. It was softly illuminated from the top. The Hayden Sphere so much as hovered in space, like held by magnetic pressure or something! The lighting is quite gentle, unlike the overly bright and inept illumination on the old edifice. The designed lighting for the old Hayden Planetarium was rather nice, with the dome and facade bathed in art deco tints. But the last managers put up additional lamps that trashed the historical aspect of the place. All the lamps in the new facility are entirely hidden from the street and sky. It was by coincidence that on the previous day, Monday the 6th of December, the New York Daily News carried a two-page article about the Planetarium. It was 'Fantastic voyage' by Sandra Gardner. detailing the features of the completed facility. It included cutaway diagrams, the same ones as issued here to fore, and shots of the interior from the main floor. With the wide-angle lens she used the Hayden Sphere looked positively humongous! Also by coincidence the American Association of Variable Star Observers issued in 1999 November its journal for the fall 1998 meeting. It had the abstract of my slide and viewgraph talk at that meeting about the new Planetarium. Do note that by now the information in that talk is quite a full year old. For example, the Planetarium was then still structurally quite incomplete. After about a halfhour at the site, near 14:00 EST, I left via the 8th Avenue bus. I wanted to check out the reillumination project in Broadway north of Times Square. The business district mounted a crash project to finish this work by the end of this year. Local darksky advocates, particularly from New Jersey, went apeshit wild when the project, which began in spring of 1999. They gave the H&M a windfall of ridership as they thoroly documented and recorded the first poles going up. Then in summer of 1999 the whole job went into slo-mo. In October and November progress resumed and I photoessayed it in the reach from Herald Square to Times Square. The reach north to Columbus Circle I hadn't yet examined. The bus ride gave me a grandstand view. Essentially all the new poles are in place! A few lingering old cobraheads remain in the upper fifties, but for the most part all of Broadway is lighted by those moonlight starsafe lamppoles now silk- screened onto the pillows of darksky leaders around the planet. The ride was steady and quick, surprisingly so with the masses of people flooding the streets in this holiday season. We're on the upramp for the yearend -- millennium-end -- inundation of, gulp!, five million visitors. Soon I was at Penn Station, where I hopped off to return to work.
SESSION 56 - 2000 JANUARY 11 -------------------------- I made it in the 21st century. In case you missed it, it started at midnight of January 1st. In fact, we had an incredible Times Square celebration, possibly the largest ever in the Square for it. (Possibly the celebration for the end of World War II was a bit bigger, but the attendance records are not certain.) I planned to visit the site on Monday, the 10th, I picked the first cloudy day of convenience to avoid the hassles with the low and brilliant Sun. So I prepared to leave for the Planetarium from work and, ugh!, out my office window I saw a rainstorm blew into town. It was a hard nasty downpour, not expected by the weather forecast of that morning. I cancelled my plan and just dashed out to get lunch at a closeby sandwich shop. On the next day, Tuesday, the 11th, it was cloudy again. This time there was no rain and I set off for the site at 12:30 EST. The one- seat ride brought me to the Planetarium in quite ten minutes. As the train swooshed into 81st Street station I saw that the south exit was open. People were rushing thru the turnstiles to meet the train. However, I was already near the north end of the train, the front as it went uptown, so I exited at the 81st St stairs. The day was cloudy with no Sun at all. Temperature was about 5C with a brisk breeze. I had to keep my hands in the pockets when not in use and my wool hat was pulled down over the ears. The scene was, well, whistle clean! Just about all the material and machinery in the park was gone! The park was still unfinished but at least there was no blockage of my view this time. Even the lath cages around the trees were removed. At the same time there was no one working in the park. The place was empty. At the western end, beyond the Planetarium grounds, construction trailers and some minor mess remained. The western gate was open and unstaffed. A worker heading for the Planetarium did advise, at my request, that the public area is still at the street. The circular drive is repaved on both the vehicle and foot portions. It was done in allnew hexstone and cobbles. The east gate was closed. This gate was uncrewed and workers came and went without challenge or checks. They all had keys for the padlock on the gate. New lamppoles dotted the drive and the park. Being that it was daytime they were turned off. So I can not tell for sure how they look at night. They are the classical 'city park' type of lamp, with a large 'acorn' globe and cage on top. They would in other towns be heavily deprecated for the side and up spray of light. Here in the City it is no longer acceptable to operate such wasteful light. We evolved a cunning strategy for the parks and many squares and plazas. We put up the outwardly nostalgic and historical poles. But the bulb and globe are of a new design that minimizes wasted light spray. The bulb is set high near the top of the globe so the metal cap of the cage partly shields it. The globe is fluted or ribbed to intercept outward rays and deflect them back to the ground. The result is a soft glowing globe from a distance but with a bright and even puddle of light around the pole. This extends about 4 or 5 meters in diameter from the pole, enough to touch the puddle of the next lamp and thus light the paths and not the air. This lamp is the de facto standard in the City for all Parks Department properties. I can only assume, not yet having actually seen Roosevelt Park at night since the renovation, that these ones here are also of the same type. The Planetarium itself is structurally complete. There remain, as seen thru the monocular, odds and ends work to be done inside the cube. Some temporary boards and scaffold lined the front of the cube. The grounds around the Planetarium looked sweeped and cleaned, there being very little rubbish or construction material around. Delivery trucks were parked in the new garage. No vehicle came or went during my visit. The Hayden Sphere was receded opticly into the cube from the lack of strong lighting from the Sun. From some angles, it almost vanished! I had clear sightlines from almost any point around the park due to both the lack of direct Sun and leafs on the trees. The chainlink fence did not interfere at all. I could poke the camera thru the mesh with no need to struggle against sunlight shining onto it. Altho the Planetarium is not ready for full function, it was opened on occasion for special visits. The biggest event was a New year's Eve dedication ceremony for the Museum officials and some major outside bigwigs. Also, journalists were taken on tours and their stories ran in the local papers in late 1999. None of the exhibits is really open, they being covered by tarps for protection during the remaining stages of work. The timeline ramp is finished. Visitors privileged to see the inside could walk along it. The sky theater is finished and under test. The Zeiss projector proved out perfectly. The Planetarium crew is starting to move into its new offices within the edifice as the rooms are cleared for occupancy. Commissioning of the new Hayden Planetarium is on the board for mid or late February of 2000, not at all overly 'late'. Over the 2-1/2 year construction the slippage is only some 50 days. Some readers noted that the lighting on the Planetarium was turned on once in a while at night. They saw it as they passed by the Museum. I haven't seen the place at night yet! I'll have to get in a night visit, like before going to the February AAA lecture. During the morning of today a member called me to tell of a new story about the Planetarium just published. It's in New Yorker magazine for January 17th by Paul Goldberger. Anyone following the world of planetaria must read it. It's a peek at the development of the ultimate design, the sphere-in-a-cube, of the Hayden Planetarium. This article brings out several features of the City's outlook on the world which may raise up severe reactions in rest-of-world readers. Most notably in those mixed up in the flap over Stellafane in 1999. Regarding the planetarium trade in the United States, it looks both promising and hopeless. The New Hayden Planetarium is the last of the great American planetaria of the 20th century, it being structurally completed in December of 1999. It is also the first of the great American planetaria of the 21st century, it opening for service in a few weeks. But in the overall scheme of astronomy culture in the United States, this Hayden Planetarium is likely to be the ONLY great planetarium of the 21st century! Or, perhaps more realisticly, the next one will come in the latter half of this century. It is not a pretty thought, yet from the general fabric of our profession in this country, that's the pattern etched into it. One point thatemerged from building this Hayden Planetarium is that Zeiss may never sell an other large-size projector in any other town in America again. Oh, we here will over the decades replace our shining new model IX machine with newer ones. It just that of American towns we here may well be the very last abode of that masterpiece. Oh, there will certainly be new planetaria in rest-of-world along the years. But no more Zeiss ones. I have to clarify a bit. Note I said 'in other towns'. There is right now the true prospect, altho not an actual certainty, that New York will get in a few years its THIRD Zeiss planetarium. We got two now, right? One here at Hayden and the other at Bronx High School of Science. The possible new third one is also in the Bronx! The Carl Sagan Discovery Center in Norwood is building a 'space station' for space and astronomy. In a later phase of its operation a planetarium and observatory will be built there. And the likely choice of projector may well be a Zeiss. Why? This is New York. Way off-topic but what is this discovery center? Briefly, it's really a new hospital for children's diseases. The patients will 'run' the place like a spacebase to explore the universe. I presented a talk about it at the AAVSO's fall meeting in October 1999, and summarized that meeting in the January 2000 issue of EYEPIECE. With nothing more to do I walked around at 13:15 to the front of the Museum to enter the subway at the new south adit. Central Park West was lined with school buses. Schoolkids gaggled on the sidewalk and on the steps of the Museum. Against this crowd, there were very few other people around. The streets here and along 81st Street were pretty vacant. The subway adit at 79th St, where 79th St would be if it continued thru the Museum campus, looks quite the same as before, only newer and cleaner. The long ramp to the fare control is redone in the same bland white protoIND tile with no ornamentation. The lights, flooring, handrails, and other fixtures are of the current style for transit renovations. The Museum's entry within the station is still walled off. You have to go to the street to enter the Museum. The flooring at platform level is a plain square tile gird without the pretty arcs woven into the floor at the 81st Street end. So while the place is freshened up, it still looks, well, blagh. As I descended to the lower, downtown, platform, I saw that the stair walls were fitted with a tile mosaic of blue whales in a sea- blue ocean. I mean the type of animal is a 'blue whale, not that the color of the figure is blue. It's white. This is attractive, yet so artificial. It's just slapped up along the stair walls with no transition across to the plain bathroom tile elsewhere in the station. The West End local pulled in for my one-seat ride back to work. Now that article in New Yorker I didn't see before my visit. I was told of it by phone. I, before heading for my office, popped into a newsie to get a copy of the magazine.
SESSION 57 - 2000 JANUARY 27 -------------------------- This is not a regular site visit to the Planetarium but I did stop by it in the evening of Thrusday the 27th of January in 2000. This day was one of the busier ones in the City for astronomy. With the opening of the new Planetarium mere weeks away, the Museum began an allpoints publicity caamaign for it. One of the projects was a chatshow with the City's major astronomers and other notable people. It hired MediaWorks, of SoHo, to do the show. You guessed; it invited me as a 'major astronomer'! The shoots were on three days, the 27th thru the 29th. I figured to go on the 27th, being that I had to stick around in the City for the Association's Recent Advances Seminar on that evening. Fine, the producer said, come to the Museum at 16:30. When I arrived a greeter from the video company took me and a couple other show guests to a studio built into the fourth floor of the Museum. We were put under makeup to remove shiny spots from our faces. (Go figure, I thought I was picked because I was a shining star.) I didn't meet the other guests in this shoot, but they looked like professionals or academics. We were prepped up separately and there was no real chance to get acquainted. Anyway, the show was done for each of us one by one. I sat on a tall stool, like a draftman's or bookkeeper's stool, against a white screen. The moderator sat off camera and asked chatty questions about astronomy and the whole shibang. The intent was for us to just give what ever answer came to mind first in what ever words came to mouth first. ON, the first go around I did just that. The moderator jumped up and flagged his crew to abort the shoot. Obviously, this could not be taken too litterally. He reset everything for a fresh run, with some more purposeful coaching. In all we went thru about ten hindoos before the moderator was satisfied with my episode. When all was done one of the crew led me back out to the first floor, the path being so mazelike I could never have gotten out on my own. I can't say for sure that my piece will be included in the Museum's promo, to be aired on local television in the weeks to come. I figure if the outfit went thru the trouble of redoing my bit over and over again it probably really wanted to get me in the final cut. Outside, at quite 17:30 EST, it was dark. Being that I had to go to 81st St for the crosstown bus, I might as well see what's with the Planetarium at night. This would be my first night visit to the site. The place was darkened except for area lighting inside. The Hayden Sphere under the ambient lighting really looked like it was some cosmic creature about to pop up out of the Cube. Thru the front entrance hall, some leftover ladders and scaffolding were still standing. The grounds were quiet. Only an occasional worker in winter outerwear walked by. The Planetarium is still recruiting for its astronomers. Several Association members are onboard the staff in various ranks, ranging from attendants to researchers to even the very director himself. This unique feature of New York dates to the first days of the old Hayden Planetarium in the mid 1930s. Here it was recognized ab initio that a center for astronomy must be a genuine peerage union of the home and campus astronomer. There can be no artificial lacuna between the 'professional' and 'amateur' realms of the profession, as there is in so many other planetaria across the country. In town after town there were bloody clashes between the home astronomy club and the sternemeisters under the dome. Both camps suffered, with disintegration of the club or deterioration of the planetarium. Readers here will definitely remind me of the story in New York in the 1970s and 1980s. Hell, they already did, which is why I'm pointing all this out here. In that era, the management of the old Hayden Planetarium rampaged out of astronomy. It revoked the facility from the astronomy world and harassed the Association. Some commentators made hay with the situation. Others saw it as a portent of their own future. It was exactly this bogus fracture of the profession into antagonistic camps that visits heavy casualties on both. In the case of the old Hayden, the rest of the campus astronomers shunned its delegates, withheld favors, waved off invites for meetings, headhunted its remaining better crew. But in New York, what would have been a messy cultural and civic disaster was turned aside. Man, it wasn't easy! Lawsuits, pitched debates, costly studies, community unrest were chapters in the epic 'How the stars were won'. The old Planetarium is today hunks of brick and scraps of ornament in an exhibit, side by side with skulls and fossils. The new Planetarium, its Hayden Sphere floating in the glass Cube, tells the world that this profession will be for the 21st century a enduring pattern in the fabric of the City. Its threads and sequins are made of both campus and home astronomers. Except for a couple special presentations to dignitaries, there were no general preview tours of the new Planetarium. The staff is busy into long hours to get the place pumped up for the grand opening itself. So, folks, mark this date on your calendar: Saturday, the 19th of February. Tickets for the skyshow within the Hayden Sphere are about sold out by the time you read this photoessay. Tickets for the exhibits and halls are freely available. The Planetarium has already lined up hundreds of tours from March thru the rest of the year! Astronomers -- from home and campus -- are revving up buses, fueling planes, energizing trains to visit the new Hayden Planetarium. A lowball -- and I mean under pessimist circumstances -- the Planetarium will field IN THIS VERY YEAR ALONE 2- 1/2 million visitors. This excedes the lifetime attendance of most other American planetaria, except for the very largest ones in the major towns. I must remind that the Planetarium is but one element of the entire Rose Center for Earth and Space Science, occupying most of the north flank of the Museum. The Planetarium itself, altho it has over twice the gross area for exhibits as the old building, has the lesser portion of the Center's offerings. The other halls total about 8 metric acres, equivalent to eight floors in one of the towers of the World Trade Center. So when you come to the Planetarium don't miss this other stuff. It snowed a few days ago. The Museum in plowing the sidewalks around the campus, pushed mounds of snow against the chainlink fence. Then the temperature fell -- it was about -10C on this evening -- so the snow froze into clinker ice. I had to kick out footholds in the ice to get up close to the fence. The park looked pretty much ready to open. At least there were no obvious remanents of material or equipment laying about. The new lamps were already turned on. Yes, they are the star friendly ones I described in the last photoessay. The more distant lamps were gentle glowing globes while the closer ones gave off a bright illumination. With snow on the ground, the illumination was amplified to the point that there were very few really dark spots in the park. The color is, at least to me, an aqua tint, not fully blue or green and certainly not white. The air was definitely chilly. A nasty breeze flowed over the street. I had a couple shots left in my camera. I did some snapshooting in the afternoon at work. I emptied the camera at the Planetarium using ambient light exposure. Then I walked to the busstop at 81st Street and Central Park West. This bus route during January was fitted with a brandnew fleet of vehicles. These are articulated buses, with a bellows joining the front and read sections. Now, I'm hardly any great fan of buses but these were sort of weird. In a minute or two one of these snaked down 81st Street and slithered into the busstop. The thing was half again longer than a regular one-piece bus, something like 18 meters long! One thing I noticed right away was that the length of the bus could put a rider rather far from the doors. I squeezed my way to the rear door. Despite the longer more capacious vehicle, it was filled to the rafters with riders. At each stop there was a much longer dwell while riders edged down the aisle to the door to get out. The bellows thingie about 2/3 of the way back seemed to be an allway joint. The two sections rocked and rolled in all directions as the bus careered thru Central Park to the east side of Manhattan. On the floor there was a round plate which turned this way and that with the motion of the bus. And on this plate, right within its edges, were four regular bus seats, two on each side facing inward with their backs against the bellows! They, when the bus was stretched out straight, lined up with the other seats in the solid sections. Riders in these seats must have gotten seasick. At Lexington Av I bailed out, this stop being next to several eateries where I would rustle up some supper. I feasted on a jumbo bagel and shmultz (for the remote reader, this is a puffy doughy roll with a hole in the middle and stuffed with cream cheese) and coffee. This place is newish, maybe a year old, and is very popular for a quick bite. It's mostly a pastry & bakery shop. . It now being near to 18:30 I walked back to Park Avenue for the Recent Astronomy Seminar. This, at first, looks like a roundtable free-for-all of home astronomers debating the mysteries of the universe. Many astronomy clubs have such a group and they are quite a draw for their members. The one in New York is actually a bit unusual. The members tend to be more wisely in astronomy and they use the academic and technical journals as sources. The Seminar was about beginning when I stepped into the office. Some ten members were gearing up for discussing recent news from magazines, newspapers, journals, and Internet. Most of the topics bantered about at this session were sparked by items in the Science Times section of the NY Times. Sessionaries (I made that one up) brought in other material to elaborate on the newspaper articles. Normally the Seminar lasts an hour and a half, aftter which several of the sessionaries repair to a nearby coffee shop for supper. Today was special. The Association's newsletter EYEPIECE had to be mailed out tonight. It fell out that the issue was received from our printer a bit late and it was convenient to do the mailing at the Seminar in the stead of calling a crew separately for this task. With about eight members staying for the mailing the work went thru quickly. Some applied the address labels, others folded, others stapled. Finally the postage stamps were stuck on. Until a year ago we had to lick or wet the stamps, a sloppy and tedious chore. We now use only the stickon stamps which come on glossy sheets much like the address labels. In anticipation of the mailing we winded down the Seminar at 20:00; a couple folk did leave then. With the remaining crew the entire half-thousand issues were ready for mailing by 20:45! These issues, being first-class mail, we dumped into a mailbox on the next corner from the office. No, we long long ago gave up on the bulk-rate mailing. The hassle and nuisance of dealing with the postoffice were so irritating that we really had trouble assembling a crew to put up with them. We eventually just went to first-class mailing and bypassed the postoffice completely. With the issues in the mailbox the mailing is utterly finished. Some of the crew did take supper, but I was by now a bit tired. I went straight home, after a very busy day of astronomy.
SESSION 58 - 2000 FEBRUARY 15 --------------------------- With the Hayden Planetarium opening its doors on Saturday the 19th of february, this is my final visit to the site in this photoessay series. This visit, on Tuesday 15 February 2000, is also the only visit with other astronomers (or anyone else, for that matter). Three other Association members came along. And it's the only visit to the INSIDE of the new facility! Two major events occurred at the beginning of February of 2000. FIrst, the Museum's website, www.amnh.org, was completely rebuilt to highlight the Rose Center. That's the large central picture on the homepage, with the ball-in-cube motif. The site has a detailed description of the Rose Center with pictures. The site does require a fast and wide Internet tie because of the heavy graphics and animations. To view the tour of the Rose Center you have to install the Ipix plugin, which can be downloaded from this site by a link. As glitzy as the Museum's new website is, I was terribly disappointed with it. OK, the Rose Center IS a stupendous addition to the Museum. Probably, due to geographic constraints, it is the very final major addition to the campus. But it's not everything. The homepage banners the Rose Center and only two other features. One is an exhibit of the Millennium Time Capsule. The other is one on body art. Everything else about the immense and huge and enormous American Museum of Natural History is buried in a thin row of tabs at the bottom of the page! After swimming around in the Rose Center section for awhile I gave up. I couldn't find a floor plan, directory of exhibits, not even a briefing to organize a visit. I tried the construction section. Only a couple of small pictures. I grant that the Museum itself made a far more comprehensive photoessay of the works than I did, if by no more means than the birdhouse on the grounds. But if it for some weird reason hired my pictures the panorama of the project would have been altogether more majestic. The other event is that to give the new Planetarium a thoro stress-test, it allowed its own members to preview the place. Museum members could pick up tickets for free to visit the Rose Center and take in a skyshow. Over the past two weeks, a couple dozen Association members, who are also Museum members, did get their first looks. At the Recent Astronomy Seminar of February 10th and the Observing Group meeting of February 12th members who saw the Planetarium offered tickets to those who did not yet see it. After opening, tickets cost $9.50 for adults, somewhat less for children and seniors. If you get tickets by phone, mail, or Internet, you'll be charged this price plus the suggested donation to enter the Museum. The total is then $19 per adult. This sounds like an incredibly stiff price to see a planetarium show. it is. Yet thruout the entire history of the Hayden Planetarium the price of a skyshow ticket was always on the high side compared to regular cinemas. When the place first opened, the damage was 50 cents -- and this was during the Depression -- about a hour's pay for most working people. And it was twice the price of a cinema ticket! You can mitigate the damage by first entering the Museum by what ever donation you are comfortable with. It must accept what you offer despite the intimidating signs. Then get the separate skyshow ticket at the Planetarium's frontdesk. Note, too, that higher categories of Museum membership bypass the suggested donation and pay only the specific $9.50 fee for the skyshow. An other way to ease the pain is to buy a CityPass. This is mainly for tourists to give entree to six major attractions of the City. These are the Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, World Trade Center, Empire State Building, and Intrepid Air-Sea- Space Museum. This costs $28, substantially less than the sum of the individual admissions. Get this pass from a tour or travel agent before your visit to the City or at the ticket desk at one of the sites after you get here. Note well that CityPass does NOT include the skyshow; you must still buy that ticket at the Planetarium ticket desk. So I got a pass for the 13:00 skyshow on Tuesday, the 15th of February in 2000. I took the whole afternoon off from work, being that I wanted to check out an other exhibits and then go tend to my astronomy class at the Association headquarters. I prepared for this special visit by having a new roll of film in my camera and an extra roll in my pocket. I arrived at the Planetarium by the two-seat ride and emerged into a crisp cool brilliant sunny day. Temperature was about 5C with a refreshing breeze. The Sun was blazing. For the preview the two gates were open for foot traffic, while the park remained fenced off. And so for the first time in over 2-1/2 years I walked down the circular drive to the front apron of the Planetarium. I waited for the other members. It wa now quite 13:10 EST. I passed the time by photographing the structure at various close angles. In the new apron were some of the bronze swirls or 'galaxies' that were dug out of the old apron. They were originally a gift from an artist who was thrilled by a laserium show and, presumably, arranged the galaxies in some certain way. I can't believe any regard for the original scheme was held in placing the swirls into the new apron. But there they are. One thing some purists will protest against. The headsign on the new Planetarium proclaims it as the Rose Center. The Hayden Planetarium name is on the wall next to the arch, lower down and in smaller letters. I would think that virtually everyone will call this particular building the Hayden Planetarium and know it as an element within the Rose Center. In fact, just the sky theater in the Hayden Sphere -- which is now called the Great Sphere -- is the actual Hayden Planetarium. Even the main floor with the exhibits is named for an other patron (I forget),, the So-&-So Hall of the Universe. Soon, like maybe on the following train, Ken Brown, Tom Clabough, and Dennis Ferguson ambled down the drive. We entered thru the new main doors under the stone arch The greeter advised that the place is not open to the public yet, because there were lots of passers by who saw the place 'open' and tried to enter. We showed our tickets and were let thru to the interior hall. The coat check was downstairs, as was the giftshop. Right away, probably from my eye for construction, I saw this Planetarium was far from complete. Everywhere there were workers fixing, assembling, adjusting. Safety tape was still strung around certain areas, certain stairs were still closed. The giftshop was still bare of its goods. Workers were busily unpacking crates to fill the shelfs but they were no way near to receiving customers. From the coatroom we proceded into the main floor, one story below the street, now called Hall of the Universe. We wanted to explore the exhibits here but the ushers shooed us to an escalator for the skyshow. From the escalator, which brought us back to street level, I saw a veritable battalion of ushers all shepherding people around the floor. By the end of my visit I would see something like fifty floor walkers in all parts of the Planetarium. This is astounding. Other halls of the Museum have a couple of ushers, typicly at the entry doors. But 50? Assuming a modest salary of $25,000 each -- without benefits or perks -- that's already a cool one million in payroll per year. If I allow for professional and support crew, at reasonably higher salaries, the payroll, raw base payroll, of the Planetarium is at least $5 million per year. Let's see what happens. To meet just this minimum estimate of payroll how many paying customers must the Planetarium host each year? First off the revenue per visitor is NOT $9.50. With discounts and children rates the averaged out rate is more like $8 per person. Thus right away the Planetarium needs 625,000 paying visitors per year. The skyshow will not be filled completely each time. Say the theater hosts 312 over all the year. Then there must be 2,000 shows in the year. The Planetarium will be open most days, but allow for some closings, so let's have 350 working days. That's 5 to 6 shows every working day. This is not a wild estimate after all. However, these shows fill only 2-1/2 hours of the day (20 minutes each with 10 minutes change over). Besides salary there are other running costs: supplies, contract services, utilities, repairs, travel, hosting guests, fees and honoraria, crew benefits and perks, equipment rental, temporary crew, replacements, and more. I have no idea what this can amount to. Let's say that because my salary estimate is on the low side, that the rest is thrice this salary. The Planetarium needs to take in $15 million per year. This bumps up the shows to fifteen per day! Yet this is more like the proposed schedule. Shows will run for 7 or 8 hours of the day. And these fifteen shows will serve thrice the visitors I noted above, or 1,875,000. This, too, is surprisingly close to the low estimate of the number of paying visitors actually expected. Toss in the free or low rate customers (school children, mostly) and we end up with a potential annual visitorship of 2.5 million. Do understand that all of the above is my very own guessitmate and there is nothing what so ever official from the Planetarium. I also saw that this main floor communicated with the rest of the Rose Center halls without impedence. In fact, you can 'visit the Planetarium' with no extra fee once inside the Museum. By this I mean you can explore the Hall of the Universe (which on this visit I would miss completely) but not enter the skyshow itself. This is actually how many other planetaria built into a museum do things. The exhibits are in the open halls but the very dome is under a separate extra admission. Maybe because this was a preview and we were guinea pigs in a shakedown cruise of the place, no one gave us or referred us to litterature about the Rose Center. No guide brochure, description of features, floor plan were evident any where in the Planetarium. Without preparation we had little notion of what to expect. We ended up flowing with the crowd under direction from the floor walkers. Way later, as I was leaving, I stopped at an information table set up in the main entry hall. No, no one there had any good litterature. From the top of the escalator, on a level with the street but in the back (south) side of the Cube, we were vectored onto elevators. By now a good crowd of a couple hundred folk accumulated. The floor were roped off into cattle chutes and we bumped forward every several seconds. The elevator took us up three more floors to the forebay -- for want of a gentler term -- of the sky theater. There is one escalator continuously loaded with visitors and three elevators working in relay to move the crowd toward the Hayden Sphere. Greeters in this forebay handed out what looked like souvenir postcards, which I slipped into my pocket to inspect later. One of the other members saw it was a 'passport' allowing the bearer to travel anywhere in the universe. The face was a wiggle picture of the heavens. Each angle of view emphasized Earth, solar system, and so on, to the whole universe itself. You are supposed to sign the back to validate it! For me, this was a mighty corny thing. And the greeter never said anything about it. She just shoved them into our hands. The forebay is spacey-spooky with an authoritatively-voiced narration that after a few repeats got pretty annoying. Scenes from the skyshow were displayed on two monitors near the ceiling. Once in a while the narration faltered or broke off, a glitch requiring attention before opening day. Every so often the narration over the PA warned against eating, drinking, or smoking in the sky theater. It did not say anything about camera flash! One of the great nuisances of any planetarium is the bloke who tries to take a photo of the show. Result: a blinding lightning bolt in everyone's eyes. To mess up matters more, the website specificly encourages handheld cameras with flash within the Museum, with no exception claimed for the Hayden Sphere. The forebay filled up with people. Soon we got to sort of goofing around. We swopped jokes and made wisecracks about our 'fate' inside the Hayden Sphere. The sky theater holds 430ish people, yet the mass of visitors seemed far larger. The effect was all from the confined and dark quarters we were packed into. After a many minute dwell time here the doors to the Hayden Sphere were opened and we all streamed inside. Now from previous member visits we learned that the best seats were the second or third row directly opposite the entrance doors. That is, we should hustle straight across the floor, on top of the hidden Zeiss projector, and take the 2nd or 3rd row of seats. This is a change from the old dome, whose best seats were the 2nd from the rim in back of the projection console. The selection of best seats is a compromise between having the Zeiss machine in your face (sitting in the first row) and suffering severe perspective distortion on the dome (sitting near the rim). We nestled in comfortable seats, well cushioned and with vinyl trimming. They were loose enough to squirm without binding the clothes or knocking into the adjacent guest. One hyped up feature is that the seats rumble to simulate rocket thrusts, stellar explosions, and the like. I'll tell you this. It's more of a gentle tremor, like that felt in a building next to a subway or a large ventilating machine. No, the seat does not rock and bounce. No, there are no seat belts. i had my monocular and Ken had regular binoculars. He, Tom, and Dennis were later going to the Winter Garden, in the World Finance Center, to see Mercury at sunset. The dome was washed in sky blue light. It was nice and clean! the old Planetarium dome was downright filthy from lack of cleaning. With everyone seated, the doors were shut, and sky darkened. The narration for the show was by Tom Hanks, who sort of reminded me of the legendary Fred Hess in voice. He announced the uprising of the Zeiss machine. Spotlights turned on to illuminate 'It' emerging from its lair in full blossom. Then it started to do its thing on the sky. The opening scene is the full force sky with a dropdead realistic Milky Way. This looked as if it were made from the Lund Observatory mosaic. It looked by eye like the Milky Way of darksky sites I went to on various eclipse trips. The band was richly textured with the dust and nebulae all over it! Thru the monocular I found many of the clusters that dot the Milky Way. Ken, too, with his binoculars spotted many deepsky features. The stars from the Zeiss are dropdead pinpoints. And they twinkle. In the monocular they remained very small dots, not obvious discs. One difference I found was that the star magnitudes seemed compressed as compared to the real sky. This made the really faint constellations more visible and tempered the brilliance of Canopus and Sirius. I can not walk you thru the entire show, but do offer general comments. The animations are truly spectacular. The planets, stars, the Orion Nebula look like you really are flying past them. Everything moves in 3D with perspective, phases, foreshortening. I did notice that the planets, on the swing out of the solar system, were a little soft. Probably this is due to the fact these were generated on the fly by computer and there's a limit to the pixelation that still allows for fast motion. Nevertheless, the effect is good. There is no lecturer -- or even a console for one -- in the Hayden Sphere. What happens to the arrow pointer? There isn't any! In the stead a crosshair is pinned on the target of attention! Actually in this show most of the action takes place over the entrance doors or in the zenith. There was little cause to squirm around in the seats except to see the planets loom out of the horizon behind you. Altho immense pains must be been suffered to make the images as real as possible, some shortfalls were evident. Galaxies looked too stylized, with powder-puff spiral arms. Nebulae in the Zeiss sky were merely generic patches in the monocular. This does not mean to say the overall effect is dulled; it isn't. You'll come away thoroly awed. This show, now called a Space Show, lasted about twenty minutes. The audience is let out a second door and onto a rectilinear ramp. This ramp was not highlighted in the promos like the timeline ramp. Yet it is equally important. This ramp hugs the perimeter of the Planetarium and has stations for the power-of-ten. This is a classical exhibit featured in many science museums. Each station, about a ha'meter long on the ramp, has the Hayden Sphere being so many meters across. In comparison the little picture on the ramp's rail, or a little ball mounted on it, represents such-&-such thing in the universe. It's hard NOT to engage the Hayden Sphere in this place! It's, uh, humongous. And there is it right in front of you all the time. It's the largest spherical structure the public can walk around inside of. There are vastly larger spheres, like for soybean oil or liquefied gas, but you can't occupy them. Some readers here noted that the Perisphere was larger but no one seems to know for sure. Here were more of the incomplete parts of the facility. Some of the panels were missing, replaced by blank slips. Panels didn't match up squarely, leaving sharp edges to catch fingers on. The railing in places had burrs or raw edges. A couple of the little balls were missing! Only their studs were left. I don;t know if these balls were still in preparation or if some nefarious previous visitor liberated them. The balls were surprisingly bland, just colored wood, plastic, metal globes. One for a globular cluster had nothing at all to simulate its stellar makeup. I would have liked to see a mass of fiberoptics with twinkling tips. One for a star (I forget which) had no granulation, spots, or even an internal light. It was just a plain old yellowish plastic ball. Uf you were expecting the mother of George Awad models, fuggedabouddit. At an early station right after leaving the skyshow, I felt uprising heat from under the railing. At first I took it to be some allusion to temperature or energy for the instant object. Closer inspection revealed that the warm air was nothing more than space heating. Along the entire length of the Power-of-Ten ramp are heating vents. Only certain ones were running during my visit. I was surprised at the erratic legibility of the captions and signs, a feature I would find all over the Planetarium later. Some were nice and contrasty and easily seen au courant along the ramp. Others were in light colors which were hard to separate from the light colored plate they sat on. Later I would find signs with translucent backing that under certain ambient light camuflaged the lettering, video screens with too tiny writing, and panels set so low I had to stoop to see. By the same token (hey, so I'm dated) I do have to say with pleasure that of the material I did read, all was competent, accurate, correct. I found nothing that was unduly exaggerated or faked or mistaken. Hence, to the extent that the captioning is fixed up you'll get a good nourishment of astronomy information. This ramp covered the range of, if I recall properly, 1e23 meters to 1e-19 meters, or from the entire universe to some subsubatomic particle. It wrapped around the east, north, west and part of the south sides of the Cube for around 100 meters. At the end was the entrance to the Big Bang Theater. The Planetarium dared not to call it the Creation Theater, for the allusion to the emotional belief that the universe was fashioned within a week or so. As people trickled down the Power-of-Ten ramp they bunched up at the entry door of the theater in the lower part of the Hayden Sphere. Ushers there collected about thirty people and let them inside. The Big Bang Theater is one of the more pumped up expectations bannered by the Museum. It's supposed to show how the universe began. I found it to be a big blip. The room was a darkened arena about 6 meters across. In the middle was a circular pit ringed bu a leaning rail. About thirty people could stand comfortably around this pit, which has no name but I call it the Big Bang Bowl. Jodie Foster narrates this show, as being an expert in cosmology from her trip to Vega and subsequent pregnancy. She explains how the universe was a dot of pure energy that exploded. Then a loud firecracker noise issues from the bowl. A bright dot appears and 'explodes' out all over the bowl. The blobs morph into smaller ones, then into galaxies. She concludes with a reminder to examine the Cosmic Pathway -- the timeline ramp -- when we leave. The whole shibang lasts only a fat minute. This is to me such a silly exhibit. It's like something in a mid American museum. Oh, yes, there is computer generated action, yet it comes off, well, ech. What's more, the exit door was open for most of this presentation. This filled the room with bothersome outside light. This door should be closed until the bigbang is complete. The timeline ramp, the Cosmic Pathway, spirals from the Big bang theater to the ground level floor for about 100 meters. Each step, assumed to be a ha'meter, represents 65 million years. One centimeter is 1.3 million years. Atop the outer wall are stations for each billion years. On the face of the wall are pictures for the objects and events at that spot's place in history. The distance from Earth, or the lookback time, is indirectly cited in the redshift of the feature. This is plain Z, not Z+1. Occasionally there's a touchscreen on top of the wall. Many were out of action. The others I found hard to read in the brilliant ambient light. Remember that the Planetarium is fully exposed to the outside with its ice-clear glass walls. It's like watching television while facing a skylighted window. Screens facing away from the glass walls suffered from direct light falling on them. The panels on the face of the outer wall were too low for grownups to read. Either they have to stand back and be intervened by other visitors or they must stoop or lean at the wall. It evens out I suppose. Children can not comfortably operate the screens on top of the wall. This ramp is a bit unusual. The presently assessed age of the universe under the standard bigbang is 13 billion years. This is not a firm fact but a working number to guide observations and studies. Please understand that nothing is mentioned about the Guth inflation stage; everything is based on a straight Friedmann model. It's plausible that the age will be revised in the years to come. To account for this prospect, the timeline ramp panels can be refitted with scenes appropriate for the new age assessment. The physical length of the ramp is fixed; the distribution of the scenes along it will fit the new scale. There were here misaligned panels, missing panels, rough edges on fittings, light leaks around pictures, and loose marker signs. On the floor of the ramp were two technicolor bands running the whole length. I don't know what these were for and there was no information about them. I noticed that many people, having seen the skyshow, the Power-of- Ten ramp, and the Big Bang Theater, were tired. They skipped down this Cosmic Pathway like an ordinary exit without examining the stations. At the end of the ramp, at floor level, was a plastic cell containing a [Jodie Foster's?] human hair. The thickness, 1/10 millimeter, stands for the entire 13,000 years of human recorded history! Let's back up a bit. The fee for the skyshow covers four major exhibits of the Planetarium, a fact not well pointed out. Everyone who hasn't seen the place assumes they get only the 20-minute skyshow for that $9.50. You actually see the skyshow first, then the Power-of-Ten ramp, the Big Bang (yes, it's two words here) Theater, and lastly the Cosmic Pathway. Only after you step off of the Cosmic Pathway at the present era do you return to the free-range area of the Planetarium. While the skyshow is 20 minutes and the Big bang boom is only a minute or two, you can spend all the time you want on the ramps. No one rushes you. It can take a half hour on each if you study several of the stations, thus easily filling an hour and a half for that ticket. While on the ramps, and probably due to my engineering career, I saw no way to escape from them in the event of fire. There's no way to quickly erect rescue ladders to the ramps from a fire brigade that arrived on the scene. The Cosmic Pathway isn't so terrible. Ushers can urge people downward to the floor and then to safety. The Power-of-Ten ramp, being much higher and with no direct exit to safety, is an other issue. It ties at each end to the Hayden Sphere, the most likely place for a fire from the mass concentration of electricity and occupancy by visitors. It may be feasible in a given situation to open both gates of the Big bang Theater, rush people thru it onto the Cosmic Pathway, and then march them to the floor. But that's over a hundred meter walk under a panic state. Within the sky theater people could be released thru the entrance gate. But that puts them in the constricted forebay with apparently only elevators to move them away. I didn't notice alternative stairs. I saw nothing to prevent a visitor with no skyshow ticket from walking UP the timeline ramp all the way back to the exit of the Big Bang theater. I can't imagine that an usher will stop from traveling backwards in time. The Big Bang Theater is as far as you could go. It is an obvious exit and an usher there will remind you as he moves people from inside onto the ramp. Somewhere in the bigbang I lost the other members. They probably went ahead while I studied some of the Power-of-Ten panels. I hope they did spot Mercury. The sky was ice blue with a blinding Sun. So the night should have been perfect for seeing the little planet over the Hudson River. While on the ramps I examined the glass walls. The glass is utterly transparent. Someone explained a few days ago that this glass is a special blend that is iron-free. I don't know what iron has to do with the transparency of the this glass, but it is, well, clear. It also seems to stifle reflections. The Sun, as dazzling as it was, made only annoying reflections, not really bright enough to avert the sight, just a nuisance. There is no way to modulate the ambient light from the sky or Sun. No blinds, louvers, mirrors, tinting temper the incoming light. What ever flows into the Cube, that's what you must get around with. I hazard that at night under artificial controllable lamps the illumination must be well executed. I just haven't seen the facility at night yet. By day, expect anything from eye-blinding direct Sun in summer months to gloomy gray under storms. I also saw the patio atop the garage. This is still under work and not accessible to anyone other than workers. It is not reachable directly from the Planetarium. In fact there is a safety barrier of a pool between it and the west wall of the Planetarium. An usher explained that the patio opens sometime in the late spring. There's a heavy psychological effect of the Planetarium. It communicates with the outside thru the walls. the glass being so clear, it seems like you can just walk out to the street. You see the towers across 81st Street and Central Park. I suppose when the place is humming with visitors the people outside will visually interact with the people on the ramps. This sets the Planetarium quite apart from others. Not even the Air & Space Museum in Washington DC accomplishes this, despite its massively huge glass walls. That museum fronts the vast empty space of the Mall. There is no 'town' around it at all. Adler and Griffith stand far off from their towns as if fearing to touch them. Fels and Boston Hayden are buried within their museums with no view of the town around them. Here in New York, whether by design or happy spinoff, the stars are united with the City, to emphasize that here, and only here, the universe is the upper half of the cityscape. Now alone with the others long separated from me, I wanted to see the main, lower, floor. Ushers barred my, and others's, way for the floor was momentarily closed. Workers were moving crates and tubs of gear into it. I reached this Hall of the Universe by an incredibly rattling stairway that clanked under my feet. Ushers explained it has to be tightened later. Thruout the Planetarium I hit, litterally, upon many fixtures and fittings that snagged my fingers. Many were in structures not yet complete, with missing covers or exposed bolts and sharp parts. Others seemed to be design flaws. Some banisters, for example, are in segments with gaps. The standoffs and fittings at the gaps easily caught my hands. So now on the ground level I took a good look at the Hayden Sphere and the ramps wrapping around it. The people were like toys trudging along them. Wait! Where was this scene played out before in the City? Yes! This is a page right from the book of Norman Bel-Gedde! He designed many of the pavilions of the last great World's Fair on Earth, back in 1939. His theme was immense massive smooth rounded structures that belittled the visitors, sort of a 'big brother' school of architecture. Bel-Gedde in the planetarium world is a whole other character. he's the guy who wanted to tear down the Hayden Planetarium! Under Robert Moses in 1941 he did a study of the still-new Planetarium to improve it. His report is now a treasured relic among planetarium groupies. Bel-Gedde was unversed in astronomy. He, for instance, thought comets fly from nebula to nebula. And he was turned off by pictures of the celestial wonders which were only in black-&-white. In his report he made several proposals for rejuvenating the Planetarium, including replacing it with a whole new facility. Did Polshek, architect of this here and now Hayden Planetarium, slyly embed Bel-Gedde in this structure? Could Bel-Gedde from his grave be whispering, 'See? I told you how to fix up that place'. Anyway, there's the Hayden Sphere in the flesh. With the main floor closed, how can I get back to the coat check on that floor? Ushers steered me to a most roundabout trek to a far out-of-way stairs. Once on the lower level the way was clear to get my coat and saddle up. By now, 15:30, I was tired, but not completely so. My camera was about exhausted of its film. I did shoot nearly a full 36-frame roll! I passed up the other halls of the Rose Center. I can see them anytime for they were open for many months already. There was an exhibit I had to check out and this is one you must include with your own visit to the Planetarium. Directly across the street on 77th Street from the Museum is the 'other' museum, the New-York Historical Society. This is housed in, compared to the colossus of the Museum, a 'shack' that costs five dollars to look around in. However, in February, March, and April there is one exhibition that makes the whole inconceivable phaenomenon of the Hayden Planetarium comprehensible. It's 'New York on the Brink' on the second floor. Against any Museum hall, even the older ones outside the Rose Center, this show is deader than a doorknob. A bunch of matted and framed photos, pictures, posters. A couple cases of artifacts. And a cast-off subway turnstile. It offers glimpses into the New York of a generation ago in the mid 1970s. If you are under 30 years of age, this is the New York your parents reared you in. In those innocent years of your youth there was a cataclysm in the making. If you are 40ish or older, you may well remember those years. You were in your first career or marriage. You may even have fled from the City in that era. Within the living memory of most readers in this room, the City sank into a veritable isolated depression that spawned the orthodox image of New York as the Nemesis of home astronomy. And, to many, of campus astronomy, too. Most of the surly and snide comments about astronomy in New York -- that farcical fantasy of fools! -- have their roots in the 1970s. And some shyster leaders of the home astronomy world still today feed their flock this swill as manna. There was, yes, really a time when the police department had to beg for new horses, the West Side Highway was a jogger's path and picnic patio, the subways were billboards for graffiti, the Bronx was the American Soweto, peasants staged sitins in firehouses. While the entire show can be exploited in a ha'hour, there are two pictures you as a home astronomy advocate should study. One is a scene of Sheep Meadow in Central Park from 1979. The whole place was a parched caked gulch. No one came here: too hard for picnic, too pitted for playing, too dusty for sunbathing. At night thugs roved over it. Central Park was in other places just as dismal and disgusting. Right below it is an other picture of the same Sheep Meadow in 1993 at the early stages of the renaissance of the City. It's quite like it is today, all green and great. Within a year this rescued greensward would be host to an other renaissance in the City. In July 1994 some five thousand townsfolk flowed in this very Sheep Meadow to study the bangmarks of comet Shoemaker-Levy-9. Then, in September of 1995, more thousands of townsfolk flowed into this very Sheep Meadow for an awesome celebration. A celebration other towns dare only to hope for their grandchildren. They celebrated the return of the stars to the City. I mean the real stars in the real sky. This was the first American Urban Star Fest. Since then, in the grandest of manner, this devastitas, icon of urban death, transglorified into a hallowed ground among the teeming masses of home astronomers. It is on this field of friendly stars where the seeds are sown which in other fields under other stars will bear the fruits of victory. The American Urban Star Fest is one of the palpable tangible resurrections of astronomy in the City. The new Rose Center with the Hayden Planetarium is an other. And this is only the beginning. The century is young. The universe is vast. From New York you will see it all. If your were a child in the City in those dark years of the 1970s, you may recall your father taking you up the subway steps at 81st Street station, walking down the curving path, to the grill gates of the Hayden Planetarium. Its insides then reflected the odor of the streets outside. Today you can take the hand of your child. Get off at 81st Street from a brandnew beautiful train. Walk up the steps of a brandnew beautiful station. Stop. Look at the brandnew beautiful Central Park with its soft welcoming starsafe lamppoles. See a kilometer to the south the starry fields of Sheep Meadow. Gaze along brandnew beautiful Central Park West under the moonlight of its starsafe lamps. Now steer your child down that curved brandnew beautiful path. Pass by the brandnew beautiful Theodore Roosevelt Park. Arrive at the grand arch of the brandnew beautiful Hayden Planetarium. If your kid asks if it was always like this, take the two of you to that other exhibit. And so, what more can I say? 'Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, welcome to the American Museum Hayden Planetarium ... .'
SESSION 59 - 2000 MAY 10 ---------------------- This is not a regular photoessay; that series was completed with my visit ot the Planetarium on 2000 February 15. That essay is session #58. What I have here is some tying up of loose ends which I collected since February 15th. These additional notes will help you during your visit to the new Hayden Planetarium, which in its first weeks of operation is welcoming over 10,000 visitors a day. The items here are gathered from several visits I made to the Planetarium since opening day, 2000 February 19, in the course of my astronomy business and personal curiosity. To these are added comments relayed to me by other astronomers who visited the Planetarium. Remember I was annoyed that there was no floor plan or visitor guide? Now it seems there's a dedicated rail spur into the Museum just for delivery of such litterature. Guides and plans for the Rose Center are EVERY WHERE. The general plan for the entire Museum is a newsletter-size foldout issued in several languages. The nonEnglish versions are slimmer than the English one but are laid out in easier to read style. If you know any of the other languages you'll do better with that plan because some of the Museum halls are dimly lighted. If you know none of the foreign languages try the Italian or Spanish map. The words are more similar to Latin, which as an astronomer you'll readily pick up the meaning. The Rose Center guide, only in English at the desk I got mine at, is more like a bus or train timetable foldout. With lots of nice pictures and clear maps, it shows what's where thruout the premises. There's a caution about the floor numbers in the Museum. They can be confusing. The entire Museum is set into a shallow basin hollowed out of Manhattan Square. The floor you land on by walking down the walks or drives from 77th St, Central Park West, or, now, the Planetarium entrance is the First Floor, even tho it's one level below the surrounding grade. Under this, entered from the IND station, is the Lower Level. This is the floor for the Hall of the Universe, the exhibit arena under the Hayden Sphere. Entry into the Planetarium is by many avenues. One is the pair of gates at the southeast corner of the Cube. If you remember the floor plan of the old Museum-Planetarium, there were on the first floor two gates in the northwest 'armpit' of the Museum. One led to a short covered walkway into the old parking lot. This was the back entrance of the Museum for those coming from 81st Street. The other was a bronze double door that opened into the old Planetarium building. A small ticket booth and turnstile was beyond these doors (as viewed from the Museum side). This is how you got into the Planetarium from inside the Museum. The cutouts for these gates were enlarged to be entrances to the first floor of the new Planetarium. They land you in the same southeast corner of the Cube. The reason for keeping the gates as two holes in the wall of the Museum is that the zone between them contains structural columns. There is an other and new pair of gates on the lower level, directly under this pair, that leads directly onto the arena of the Hall of the Universe. And an other new adit is by a short stair on the east side of the Cube coming from the Hall of Planet Earth. An an other on the 2nd floor by a gentle incline. This is how the Museum communicates with the power-of-ten ramp. Other avenues of approach are under construction in the southwest side of the Cube. The new main entrance of the Planetarium where the old grilled gates used to stand, is functionally the new north entrance to the entire Museum. Once within the Planetarium you may roam freely thruout the Museum. A new hall to the southwest corner of the Cube is under construction for a summer 2000 opening. This doubles as a staging area for school groups whose buses berth in the new parking garage and also communicates with Columbus Avenue as a new western access into the Museum. The glass used for the interior barriers and doors seems to be of the same ultraclear kind for the walls of the Cube. You can not see the stuff! What may look like a thin guardrail on a balcony is actually faced with panels made of this glass. You won't lose a child by slipping under the rail. But I did see many people accidently kicking the panels, for lack of evidence when they looked over the railing. I saw many people collide with the glass doors and barrier walls for the same reason. At the main entrance fronting 81sst Street a squad of greeters continuously warned of the glass and steered people to the doors. The perimeter of the floor, away from the Hayden Sphere, is laid with a spiffy stone which some thought was artificially concocted for the Planetarium. It's really a natural stone in common use for corporate entrance halls and lobbies. It's black but you can see several centimeters into it! Embedded in it are flecks of mica that throw off rainbow colors when sunlight hits them! The effect is that you're walking thru space all glittery with stars. I don't know the name of this stone but I see it from time to time in other decorative applications. There is a totally queer feature not evident during the preview. When you pay $9.50 (or $19 including the suggested Museum donation) you expect to have your visit welcomed, no? Like, punch my ticket. Yet on all the visits since opening day there was an astounding sloppiness in handling the tickets. There is no true ticket gate! The audience piles into the elevator lobby and ushers sort of gets it queued up. The ushers are not terribly attentive to the tickets. I saw routinely people with their tickets out ready for taking yet the usher waves them by. These people are then perplexed to the max when they realize, after getting to the forebay, that they still have their ticket! In Europe it's common to pay the admission and walk into a show without actually having to present the ticket. In America it's universal to have a gatekeeper who collects, punches, mutilates the ticket as a sign of positive entry to the show. What's more, when a ticket is collected by an usher, it's just pocketed without inspecting it! Tickets are valid only for a particular show. You may have found that a show you requested tickets for is sold out, yes? Well, I can see how a nefarious soul may slip into a show with an uncollected ticket from a previous show. Please be fair. If you are let thru with ticket still in hand, please put it away as a souvenir of your visit, OK? Paralleling the fiasco with the tickets, is the one with the cosmic passports. The passport is a postcard with a wiggle picture on one side. It's supposed to let you travel anywhere in the universe, once it's signed by the bearer. Yes, it's a fairground sort of gimmick. After all, only the bearer of the passport is authorized to have it in his possession, got that straight? These are handed out by ushers as you board the elevators. With no controlled ducting of the people flow, it's usual to miss out on the passport and see the show without it. Near the end of the show a comment is made that your passport is now valid but without it the audience thinks this is a cute statement. Even if you do get a card, the lighting in the forebay is too dim to see it and you'll stuff it in your pocket to worry about on the way home. Just about everyone is annoyed with the forebay of the Hayden Sphere and the Big Bang theater. The forebay is the large darkened arena into which the audience is packed before opening the door to the Hayden Sphere. People from the elevators continuously are sent into this room until the entire audience is accumulated. This can easily take ten or more minutes! The forebay gets crowded, noisy, stuffy. There are only a couple seats for the tired or feeble folk. When I went during school group visits, the place wa deafeningly loud. There are several video screens hanging from the ceiling all showing the same tape. You look at the nearest one. The presentation is plain childish and has an overbearing voiceover. After a while most everyone stops watching and gets to fidgetting. These screens could far better show the exhibits in the Hall of the Universe so people know what to look for and how to interpret them. Preparation of the visitors to better appreciate the exhibits is sorely needed. For instance, the timeline and power-of-ten ramps are so poorly understood that they are treated as fancy exit ramps. People commonly walk or skip down them without stopping to admire the caption plaques. The video screens in the forebay could illustrate sample plaques and tell how to read them. Just before admitting the audience into the sky theater, a hurried narration warns against eating, smoking, and other no-nos. After a week or so, because of the very misleading advice on the website and brochures of the Museum, this now warns against flash pictures. There is no crowd control in this forebay. When the doors open, everyone surges forward and groups break apart easily. There are only a couple ushers in the dome as hundreds of people rush for seats. Altho, I hope, only as many tickets are sold as seats for each show, the residual empty seats are tough to find for the last people getting into the dome. Yet, so far, on my visits the dome was apparently fully packed and by show start I could see no empty seats left. The skyshow performed without incident on each of my visits and no one else reported any major glitches. However, there are two major points to note. First is that after all the glorious uprising of the Zeiss projector at the beginning of the presentation, the machine actually only runs for the first couple minutes. It puts up the initial sky with the stars and Milky Way. There after the show continues from the periphery-mounted computer projectors. This transfer of the performance takes place during the flyby of the planets, which soar overhead in 3D full-motion animation. When the stars are put back up, they are obviously fuzzy compared to the sky in the opening scene of the show. These stars are now projected from the peripheral machinery. Probably during the planet parade, while every one is focused on the dome, the Zeiss machine retracts into its well. When the audience exits, the machine is sound asleep under their feet. The objects moving around on the dome are each accurately portrayed according to the best available data. Each known star in the Milky Way and each known galaxy in the universe is individually addressed for its proper motion and position! Hence, the scenes are not artist's concepts or stylized simulations. A brief mention of the technical accuracy was added several weeks after opening day, but the audience surely forgets it quickly. To it the whole production may just as well be some animation concocted in a studio with imagination. All in all, the new Hayden Planetarium, given the immense number of objects in its database, moves on the dome about 100 times more points than all the other planetaria in the world combined! The skyshow did cost a pretty penny to assemble. It took several hours of CPU time at the supercomputing centers of University of Illinois and University of California at San Diego to put this show together! The actual price is not publicly stated, but computer graphics experts who saw the skyshow guesstimate that it must have cost about $4 million! Even if it cost 'only' $1 million, that's quite an expensive skyshow. For sure there will not be any frequent change of show during the year. Two or three changes per year are the most to expect. More over, this show is utterly unique to Hayden. No other Planetarium can borrow or buy it for they have neither the equipment nor crew to play it. After the skyshow everyone is let out of the exit door with mass chaos as groups try to reassemble. The area beyond the exit door is a narrow walkway which leads to a single-lane escalator. Teachers and tour guides yell out for their folk to gather around them as streams of people crisscross. It takes an uncomfortably long time for the full audience to clear out this area. I have one grand correction, one which was not evident during my visit during the preview period. The power-of-ten and timeline ramps are accessible from the free-range zone of the Museum. They are not restricted only to the paying audience of the skyshow. When I and the three other AAAers exited the skyshow on February 15th we were herded directly onto the power-of-ten ramp. This, by the way, is properly named Scales of the Universe. We didn't see any other way to enter the ramp, likely from the prodding of the ushers. The Scales of the Universe ramp springs from the 2nd floor of the Museum and can be entered directly from that floor. Hence, once having gotten into the Museum you can walk the ramp, to and thru the Big Bang theater, and down the the Cosmic Pathway ramp. You still have the diode at the Big Bang theater, you may only enter at the one side and only exit at the other side. That is, you may walk either way along the Scales of the Universe up to the Big Bang theater, even backing up to the top and leaving the ramp. You can walk either way along the Cosmic Pathway up to the Big Bang theater and back to the 1st floor. But you can only procede from the former thru the Big Bang theater to the latter. What this means is tat the ENTIRE premises of the Planetarium is open for you after admission into the Museum with the sole exception of the skyshow itself. You may even, if you choose, see the skyshow, leave for the rest of the Museum, and skip the ramps completely. It also means that the ticket price of $9.50 for the skyshow does not include inescapably the ramps and Big Bang theater. You're paying for JUST that 20ish minute space tour under the dome. Is it worth it? That's really an individual assessment. This entree onto the power-of-ten ramp from the Museum floor removes my concern for fire safety. People on this ramp may be led back to to the top and to safety thru the Museum. An other constant source of annoyance is that Big Bang theater. I and other astronomers stopped watching it. I now just walk straight thru, as the doors are opened. Most people seem to expect something really special to happen and are let down when all they get is a trite commentary and some flashing gyrating lights. The lower level, one floor below the street, is the Hall of the Universe and has most of the exhibits. If you stand back and study the layout there is a flow of topics across the floor. Most people just flit from one exhibit to an other with no particular sequence. The exhibits are arranged to leave large open areas here and there, specially under the Hayden Sphere. This allows for use of the floor for gatherings, like private parties or receptions. There's nothing wrong with getting extra use from the space when the Planetarium would otherwise sit idle. In fact, if outside nonastronomy groups can be attracted to the edifice and pay a suitable rental for it, that's all to the better utilization and revenue for astronomy. There are three types of exhibit. One is rows of man-high 'vending machines'. These are cabinets faced with backlighted panels described a this or that subject of astronomy. They are massed around the floor in several arcs, concave to the viewer. The captions are short but tightly worded. And large, contrasty, and legible. The illustrations are housed in circular lunettes. Many of the cabinets had grills like for speakers, but I never heard anything from them on my visits. I did hear what seemed to be narration from elsewhere but when I tried to track down the source, it was mute. Maybe I missed a pushbutton or didn't wait long enough to let the tapes rewind? An other type is a corral with some fancy theme within it. This may be an animation, large picture, or an artifact. The coronal artifact of the Planetarium is the big meteorite, Willamette, which, on account of the present bruhaha about it, is sounded 'wih-LA-mett'. And it's spelled with one 'i'; no, it's not Williamette like 'WIH- lya-mett'. In brief, the Grand Ronde Indian confederation from Oregon state claims the meteorite is a tribal treasure and totem. It now has a federal claim to make the Museum return it to Oregon! This flap erupts every ten or do years when someone in Oregon reads a history book and asks why the thing is in New York. Without going into the whole rigamarole here -- hit on 'Willamette meteorite' on the Web -- the mother is a unique specimen of meteorite. In fact, by some weird celestial process it's a recrystallized steel gemstone. Bring with you a nonmetallic rapper, like a hard plastic coin or key case. Gently rap on the meteorite. Oh! What a gorgeous sound!! Just make SURE to MEVER use anything that may scratch the iron. Positively do not try this with the very coin or key itself. In one of the photoessay sessions I explained that the Willamette was placed on its stand before the Planetarium was roofed over and the Hayden Sphere built above it. It's now well surrounded by structure, making it impossible to remove without serious dismantling of the Planetarium. There is no clear straight path from it to the street by which perhaps a crawler or bridge crane could walk it out of the Planetarium. Yet there is precedent for such dismantling. When the Anighito meteorite, the largest on Earth in captivity, was moved from the Planetarium to the Hall of Meteorites in the Museum, a cutout was made in the side of the old Planetarium. A three-meter square hole was punched thru the brick and mortar wall facing the parking lot. The iron, all of its 36 tons, was winched out on heavy wooden rollers and eased onto a flatbed truck. The whole process took a week. The third exhibit type for many minutes threw me. This is a vertical tubular spar about two meters tall with an incised and backlighted legend on it. There are lots of these all over the floor. The first clue I sussed out was that these were all outside the shadow of the Hayden Sphere, yet there was no actual 'thing' to look at near them. They looked like those undecipherable information pillars in shopping malls. I happened to pass a couple of them with the open sky behind them, Extending out from the top, the spars being tubular, was a thick wire going straight up into the air. Following it upward, it ended in one of the hanging models of a celestial body! The legend was the object's name, like 'Venus' or 'spiral galaxy'. One amusing incident happened to me. On the landing at the end of the timeline ramp there is a large, about one meter diameter, globe sitting on a low base. It sort of looked like the Moon with its relief surface. As I moved in closer to study it an usher skipped over to me. He was obviously proud to assist me. He caressed the top of the globe, like a father would the head of his little boy, and gushed, 'This is the Moon. OUR Moon!'. Yes, father. It in fact was a relief globe of the Moon. On ny evening visits the Planetarium has a jazz band playing away in the Hall of the Universe. The music is nice and lively. It is, however, terribly loud. It distracts you from examining the exhibits in that hall. I was at the Planetarium both by day and by evening. Amazingly, there is very little direct sunlight onto the main floor. With this period when the Sun is still south of the equator, this is not perhaps a fair statement. I did trace out the Sun's path in the sky for summer -- recalling that we got that legendary Stonehenge effect on Manhattan -- it seems that the floor is pretty well shaded all year round. Hence I thought there would be less interference from ambient illumination than I experienced on the ramps. Sorry, folks. The good news first. In evening (I was not yet there in full night) the place is wonderfully lighted. The illumination is thoroly civilized and mature and in full partnership with the outside sky. You really have to try hard to get an obnoxious light in your face. Most of the captions and signs are plainly legible. There were an annoying number made with lousy combos of ink and paper color. But there were enough others of excellent legibility to cover for these. The video screens were easy to see, even the littler ones. Lighting of the floor, stairs, ramps, was even, with no confusing shadows or blind spots. The Hayden Sphere in evening from the bottom looks bluish-gray in the stead of the Cherenkov blue seen from outside in the street. And from the floor the mother really looks like it hovers, like some spaceship fixing to land on you. The tripod of struts is there, of course, painted a mild gray, similar to the tint of electric power poles to blend them into the landscape. They fade away among the exhibits, leaving the immense ball over your head. In elevation, the Hayden Sphere nadir is about at the level of the park outside, or about 3 meters below 81st Street. It's about four meters above your head from the floor of the Hall of the Universe. The hanging models of the celestial bodies are all outside the equator of the ball so they are visible from the floor. They apparently have separate spotlights to illuminate them. Yes, no George Awad work here; the pieces are immature globes or crude shapes. Now for the daytime, that's an other story. Despite the absence, by the shade of the Museum and the Hayden Sphere, of direct sunlight, the blue sky is incredibly brilliant. Maybe it's the super transparent glass, still sparkling clean from newness, that admits such copious light. In any case, just about every video screen is hopelessly washed out and tough to read. Many of the exhibit panels are a strain to read from the reflected skylight off of the shiny metal surfaces. The sphere-in-a-cube is already a hotwire theme in architecture and is fast becoming an icon of the City, like the crown of the Empire State Building or the head of the Statue of Liberty. It is also already a rallying symbol for the darksky movement. For here is a huge structure, communicating directly thru the glass walls with the heavens above, and as busy as the anchor store in a suburban shopping mall. Yet it lives in complete harmony and partnership with the stars! Preliminary tests from the adjacent patio, not open yet, prove that there is sensibly no loss of stars. Not a bulb is visible from outside the Planetarium and the totality of reflected light from the Hall of the Universe is hooded by the Hayden Sphere itself. Construction is pretty much finished. Of the kinds of defect I found in my February 15th visit only a few remained. Most of the panels were aligned and tightened, most light leaks were sealed, most missing parts were replaced. There were still odds and ends of untidy work here and there. The one gross defect still outstanding is that stair joining the first floor, near the timeline ramp exit, to the lower level. By the end of March of 2000 essentially all the construction defects were cleared up. From then on, what defects I found seemed to be from breakage or wear and tear. There is one stair in particular that strikes me as still shaky. Literally shaky. This joins the end of the timeline ramp to the lower floor. From the timeline ramp you may turn into the Museum to visit the Hall of Planet Earth or continue downstairs to the lower floor. This stair is made of bolted sections in an open frame style. It is clanky and rattly under the feet. The feeling makes you grip the handrail. But this handrail is built in separated segments. As your hand slides across the gap between segments it's inevitably snagged. So that's what's with the new Hayden Planetarium. Do come and see it. In spite of the glitches, it is a dropdead spectacular place, a veritable temple of the heavens. While here, see the rest of the Museum, too. Bring lots of film, tape, discs, chips for picture taking. You may use flash anywhere EXCEPT within the dome. Remember that. A wide angle lens is a real plus to take in the immensity of the Hayden Sphere. The bookstore is well stocked with good astronomy gumbo. The cafe in the basement of the Museum and eateries around the Museum campus are fairly priced. Central Park is just across the street. The subway and bus stops are right there at the corner. Still at sea about your upcoming visit? Do this. Email me and I usually can arrange to show you around the place.