‘Living Worlds’ at California Academy of Sciences a visual feast for the eyes

Morrison Planetarium presents new film about search for life in the universe

If you’re expecting ET as the first extraterrestrial humanity will meet, you may be disappointed. More likely, it will be a microscopic single-cell amoeba, which also has inhabited Earth for millennia. That, at least, is what “Living Worlds,” the Morrison Planetarium’s new show, posits.

California Academy of Sciences, along with other museums, reopened cautiously some time ago, but for the Planetarium, with its seating in a spacious but closed interior, this is the first new show since the beginning of the pandemic. Strict COVID rules apply to admission and advance reservation is required.

Narrated by Daveed Diggs, the show follows a spectacular search across the cosmos and through time for signs of life elsewhere, while also exploring the transformation of Earth’s surface and atmosphere over billions of years.

With stars, planets and spacecrafts projected on Morrison’s 75-foot-diameter screen, it’s an amazing journey in which Earth’s past and future space exploration overlap, beginning with the Atacama high desert in Chile, the driest place in the world, with a surface resembling Mars. (There, in a volcanic lake, we also meet the armored, ever-surviving amoeba.)

The new show at Morrison Planetarium reveals how life exists in extreme environments, such as inside rocks in the Atacama desert, which is exposed to intense ultraviolet radiation. The interior of such a rock can be home to a tiny, hospitable “nanoclimate“ teeming with microbes. (Courtesy California Academy of Sciences)

The new show at Morrison Planetarium reveals how life exists in extreme environments, such as inside rocks in the Atacama desert, which is exposed to intense ultraviolet radiation. The interior of such a rock can be home to a tiny, hospitable “nanoclimate“ teeming with microbes. (Courtesy California Academy of Sciences)

Examining from space “fingerprints of life” on Earth and comparing them with those on Mars and elsewhere in the universe, “Living Worlds” also visits one of Saturn’s moons and exoplanets — those beyond our solar system, orbiting stars.

In this view of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, one can easily see the geysers erupting from around its south pole. When the Cassini spacecraft passed through these jets, it detected organic compounds that suggest that the building blocks of life exist in the moon’s subsurface ocean. (Courtesy Paul Schenk/Lunar and Planetary Institute/California Academy of Sciences)

In this view of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, one can easily see the geysers erupting from around its south pole. When the Cassini spacecraft passed through these jets, it detected organic compounds that suggest that the building blocks of life exist in the moon’s subsurface ocean. (Courtesy Paul Schenk/Lunar and Planetary Institute/California Academy of Sciences)

Planetarium and Academy Science Visualization Senior Director Ryan Wyatt says the film digs deep into cutting-edge science “to ponder existential quandaries, combining the expertise and research of hundreds of scientists across dozens of disciplines and leveraging simulations and data from around the globe. We hope that viewers will come away with a deeper understanding of our living world in a cosmic context, and that they will be inspired to seek an active role in regenerating life on Earth.”

“Living Worlds” debuts in San Francisco on Nov. 5, but it already has been honored widely in festival showings, receiving awards and accolades at the 2021 Dome Fest West and film festivals in Los Angeles, Germany, the U.K. and Australia.

IF YOU GO: Living Worlds

Where: California Academy of Sciences, 55 Music Concourse Drive, S.F.

When: 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday–Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays

Admission: Tickets with timed entry must be purchased in advance; varied prices start at about $25 (youth) to $31 (adults)

Contact: (415) 379-8000, www.calacademy.org

Notes: Cost of planetarium show is included in admission fee, but reservations are required; the Academy is following local and state COVID-related health protocols.

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