Planetarium’s ‘Incoming’ shows fascinating impact of asteroids

With so much chaos on Earth, there’s never been a better time to look at what’s happening in the rest of the universe.

“Incoming!” the Morrison Planetarium show at the California Academy of Sciences, does just that. Viewers begin by seeing the world through the eyes of a lizard. Then they swoop upward in the sky, following the trail of asteroids and comets to learn how they have collided with Earth over time.

The experience feels a bit like the Disney ride “Soarin’ Over California.” You know you’re sitting in a theater with your kid next to you — and yet you find yourself gripping the arm rests to keep from tumbling into the dark depths of space.

The museum is one of a handful in the country with a studio equipped to produce its own planetarium shows. At 75 feet in diameter, the planetarium’s full dome screen is one of the largest in the world.

Part of what makes the show so incredible are its complex and sophisticated graphics. It’s both fascinating and a bit unsettling to discover that objects from space enter the atmosphere constantly — and that scientists are tracking what’s coming.

“Understanding the threat of asteroids and comets colliding with Earth is critical to the sustainability of our planet,” says Ryan Wyatt, senior director of the planetarium and science visualization at the academy. “But these objects also tell us about our past. They have wandered the Solar System since its formation and they have changed the course of life on Earth.”

Early on, viewers learn about the kilometer-wide scar known as the Barringer Crater that was formed nearly 50,000 years ago after an asteroid vaporized when it crashed into Earth. It’s one of about 200 impact craters around the globe that scientists have identified.

Although most of the large asteroids that could crash into earth have been identified, Wyatt says, astronomers continue to look for smaller ones.

“The message we really want to get across … is we really need to look for them, “ Wyatt says. “The great news is that we’re finding them fairly rapidly.”

“Incoming!” is narrated by actor George Takei. It took about 13 months and $1 million to make and includes a built-in break to allow museum staff members to update the audience on the latest data from current NASA missions.

The film runs through Sept. 5 and then resumes Nov. 23. The planetarium is closing temporarily so that the projection system can be upgraded.

IF YOU GO
Incoming!
Where: Morrison Planetarium, California Academy of Sciences, 55 Music Concourse Drive, Golden Gate Park, S.F.
When: 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. hourly every day
Tickets: Free with admission ($25 child, $30 student, $35 adult)
Contact: (415) 379-8000, www.calacademy
Note: The show continues through Sept. 5 and resumes Nov. 23

Cathy Bowman

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