REVIEW: “Star Talk” at the Planetarium

I attended a recent showing of Star Talk at the Museum of Natural History this weekend.  I say ‘recent’ because I try to make it out at least twice a year.  The program is about 45 minutes long and it starts with an overview of what planets, stars, and constellations are in the night-time sky in the Ann Arbor area.

This is the main reason why I go twice a year is because the night-time sky is constantly changing, and the Star Talk presentation is constantly updating its show to inform you of these changes.

For example, currently in our area, you can see four planets in the night-time sky – Saturn (far to the east), Mars, Jupiter and Venus (near each other to the far west).  Typically you don’t see half of our solar system in one evening, the presenter explained.  More on this in a moment.

After getting an overview of the planets, stars, and constellations, then the second half of the presentation is a quick tour of the solar system – an up close examination of the planets.  Other than the potential of getting a bit queasy in the stomach when the objects in the viewing screen move somewhat rapidly, the experience is pretty fun and informative.

One nitpick from Sunday’s presentation.

It’s possible that the presenter was trying to make a joke, but when she showed us the zodiac constellations in the sky, she added the comment “while NASA scientists don’t think astrology is true, some other scientists do” (paraphrase).  Another comment later in the show, which I’m sure was meant to be a joke, was when she made the comment about not normally seeing four planets in one night-time sky, she added “I’m sure that it doesn’t have anything to do with the 2012 Mayan [prophecy[.”

I’m all for making jokes like that, but I think that she should have said afterwards that the prophecy is hogwash.  And regarding the astrology thing, I think the comment that “scientists” believe in astrology was a poor comment to make.  The presenter’s background was geology, and so it would be like saying “some scientists” believe that the Earth is only 6,000 – 10,000 years old.

Perhaps I’m being too harsh on these two points.  The rest of the presentation was nicely done, and the presenter had a very good, conversational tone – which I thought was a compliment to the viewing experience.

All in all, I recommend this show for folks interested in night-time sky viewing.  Especially if you want to get a good understanding of how to identify the four planets (you only have a few weeks left to catch them all), as well as stars and constellations of significance – such as Betelgeuse (located in Orion’s armpit).  And if you can’t make it out in the next few weeks, then try to during mid-summer when Saturn is in prime viewing location.  And then buy or borrow a cheap telescope and look for it, because once you’ve seen the rings of Saturn in person, you won’t ever forget it.