As I ride my Capital Bikeshare up 4th Street towards the National Mall, I start to remember my college years back at North Georgia College and the many nights I spent looking up at the stars. For three years I worked at our school’s observatory, including two at the planetarium. Sure, I had had a fascination with space since I was a little kid, but more so I wanted get out of mandatory study hall (and military uniforms) and instead relax while looking up at the stars and wondering what more was out there. It’s funny how quickly something that used to mean so much to you can be cast aside. Until this moment, I have not stepped foot in an observatory or planetarium since college.
When I’m in the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum, I get that sense that I’m home again. It’s a tingly feeling that lets you know you’re right where you should be. I’ve been invited by Alison Mitchell, who handles media requests at the museum. Alison has been great in incorporating our newspaper as the museums here are a special part of what makes the neighborhood what it is.
Once I have my ticket, I proceed into the newly remodeled Albert Einstein Planetarium to watch Dark Universe, a 24-minute documentary narrated by the Carl Sagan of our time: astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. The space is amazing. And with it’s new set of planetarium projectors, you see the universe like you have never seen before. In this short film, Dr. Tyson discusses how invisible dark matter, together with dark energy, accounts for the other 95 percent of the universe’s total energy and mass. Normally, this topic might put young and old to sleep in minutes, but instead Dark Universe grips everyone right from the beginning in the only way the preeminent astrophysicist celebrity can; the material presented is not only accessible to adults, but also to kids in the audience. Once the lights come on, I see parents with mouths agape as I hear their kids declare how “cool” and “awesome” invisible dark matter is. (Yes, you read that correctly.)
Playing at least six showings per day, this is one part of the neighborhood we could all get to know better – kids included.