School Shows

Wonderful Worlds

Wonderful Worlds

Image from the planetarium show Wonderful Worlds

Wonderful Worlds is an interactive journey through our solar system.

The journey begins at the planet Earth. Earth's orbital motion around the Sun is described and compared to the orbits of the inner and outer planets, and then the Earth's rotation and axial tilt are described, showing how the tilt causes the Sun's apparent path to change with the seasons.

Viewing Earth from the perspective of space, its internal structure and dynamics are described and related to the movement of crustal plates on the planet's surface. The waters of Earth's hydrosphere fill the basins, and a cloudy atmosphere covers our world. The layers of the atmosphere are named and described, including the troposphere, where the water cycle results in ever-changing weather; the stratosphere, where airplanes fly above the clouds; the mesosphere, where meteors flare; and the ionosphere, where auroras dance at the edge of space.

After exploring our home planet, a quick quiz on the interactive keypads is used to select a pilot, who will use the Planetarium's Kinect interface to choose the next destination.

There are programmed tours lasting seven to ten minutes in length for each of the solar system's major planets. The tours include a segment on what the planet looks like in the night sky, how the planet moves through the solar system, and what features are revealed when we examine these worlds up close.

During the program, it is possible to visit four or five planets before time expires and the room lights fade up. At some planets, quizzes are used to select another pilot, and at other planets, the host takes control to balance the visits to include examples from both the rocky terrestrial planets, and the giant Jovian planets.

  • Highlights of the planets in Wonderful Worlds:
    • Mercury is a planet covered by large basins and small craters. Here, the Sun crawls across the sky so slowly that sometimes the orbital motion makes it appear to pause and briefly back up in the sky. The long nights and lack of an atmosphere make temperatures here swing over the widest range in the solar system, from highs over 800 degrees to lows hundreds of degrees below zero.
    • Venus outshines any other star or planet in the evening sky. It is the hottest planet, with day and night temperatures near 900 degrees. The surface is hidden below thick clouds, but astronomers using radar have been able to map the hidden surface. The planet is covered with volcanic landforms, some similar to areas of Earth, and others that are seen nowhere else in the solar system.
    • Mars can be seen moving in the evening sky, where it sometimes backs up, making a retrograde loop. The forth planet from the Sun is a small world with gigantic features like the volcano Olympus Mons and the canyon Valles Marineris, which can be seen by the Hubble Space Telescope from Earth orbit.
    • Jupiter could swallow all the other planets of our solar system and still have room for more. It has cloud belts and huge storms in its atmosphere. Whizzing around Jupiter are more than sixty moons, the four largest visible in Galileo's first telescope. Each of these Galilean moons is a fascinating world with unique features.
    • Saturn is similar and second to Jupiter in many ways but stands unique because of the broad system of rings around the planet. The rings are a flat disk fifteen times the diameter of Earth from side to side, but only a few hundred yards from top to bottom. Saturn's largest moon has a thick methane atmosphere and lakes of liquid ethane.
    • Uranus was discovered accidentally when William Herschel was viewing the sky in March, 1783. The planet is blue in color because of methane gas in its atmosphere, and it is tilted so that it is on its side as it rolls around the Sun.
    • Neptune is farther away than any other major planet. Beyond it are minor bodies, the dwarf planets and comets of the Kuiper Belt and Oort Cloud. The planet resembles Uranus with its size and blue color. The Voyager Space Probe discovered huge geysers on this large moon that orbits backwards around Neptune. As a result, it is in a decaying orbit that will bring it closer to Neptune until the planet's gravity rips the moon apart, creating a ring system.