Friday, April 16, 2010

Illinois Premier of "Hubble IMAX 3D" at Navy Pier

Last night I attended the Illinois premier of "Hubble IMAX 3D" at Navy Pier with the Chicago Astronomers. I arrived early and wandered around the mall-like Navy Pier until Joe Guzman and the other Chicago Astronomers arrived around 5:45.


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Views from outside Navy Pier.


We chatted outside the theater for a little while, then went in and goofed off with our 3d glasses until the film started.


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This was my first 3D film, and the first IMAX film I had seen since I was a kid (I remember seeing a space IMAX movie at the Museum of Science & Industry when they first opened their IMAX theater). Wow. Even the opening credits were amazing, and when the astronauts of the STS-125 Hubble Space Telescope repair mission were suiting up, it was like being right there with them. We all know that the Hubble Space Telescope is huge, and have probably seen pictures of the astronauts working on the telescope, but the 3D views really let you know just how big HST is. It's impressive.

Before getting to STS-125 footage, they show the launch of Hubble, and the first repair mission to correct it's optics. Then computer graphics artists take viewers on a 3D tour inside the Orion Nebula, a nearby active star forming region. Believe me, you will want to reach out and touch swirling stellar and planetary systems as they are being born.

The film then shifts to the astronauts training for the final mission to Hubble ST, in the Neutral Buoyancy Tank at Johnson Space Center in Houston. Finally, we are ready to ride with them on the trip of a lifetime. The liftoff of Space Shuttle Atlantis is amazing, especially the view from below Launch Pad 39A.

We watch as Mission Specialist Megan MacArthur captures the telescope with the Canadarm robotic arm and places it in Atlantis's cargo bay. As soon as the Hubble is secured to the space shuttle, the astronauts start preparing for the servicing space walks. The film then captures five days of space walks by John Grunsfeld, Andrew Feustel, Mike Massimino, and Michael Good. Sometimes filled with struggles, all five spacewalks are ultimately successful, enabling Hubble Space Telescope to see farther into our universe than ever before.

To emphasize Hubble's new capabilities, the movie ends with another 3D trip through the universe, this time into a region known as the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, the most distant look ever in visible light wavelengths.

When the film ended, two of the scientists and graphic artists who led teams in the production of "Hubble IMAX 3D" spoke about their roles in the project. It was fascinating to hear, and left me with an insight into the film that few viewers will ever have. But even without hearing from the people involved, I'm sure you will find this an incredible journey through space and time.

After the viewing, there was a small reception in a hallway overlooking an atrium inside Navy Pier. In need of caffeine, I chose to buy a bottle of tea from a vendor instead of joining the other Chicago Astronomers for wine. I tried to keep up with conversations, but the sun was now setting, and the night sky kept calling me out to the balcony. I caught sight of Venus and the young Moon setting over the city, and checked every few minutes until Saturn appeared over Lake Michigan.


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Venus, just above the skyline.


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Ferris wheel.


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Looking down the pier, towards Lake Michigan.


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The day old Moon. I was surprised to see it.


Before the reception ended, the other Chicago Astronomers and I set up two telescopes on a balcony overlooking Monroe Harbor, and pointed them at the beautiful ringed planet, Saturn. We stayed out for over an hour, and were joined by some fellow invitees to the "Hubble" premier, as well as a few people enjoying the night at Navy Pier. It was getting late, and a strong wind was making for poor observing, so we gathered for a group picture before calling it a night.


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Parting group picture.


As I left, I was ready to go home and observe again, but the long drive back to Indiana drained what little energy I had after a long week with little sleep, so I went to bed. But what an awesome experience I had, and I'm honored to have been invited.

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