I mean, really wow.
Well everyone seems to be saying that Skeptics in the Planetarium at the INTECH Science Centre was a roaring success last night. And you know I rather think it was. Nerves and some mild panic over the organisation aside it went very well indeed and we honestly could not have asked for a better service nor better hosting from the dedicated staff at INTECH.
On to the show where that most splendid chap Robin Ince consented to be our MC for the evening. Mainly I think because he’d seen what an utter shambles we would have made of it so thank you Robin !
We introduced the show with a few words about who we are and what we do before handing over to Robin for some proper funny stuff and science geekery.
First Robin introduced the diminutive Sheila Kanani with her talk about planetary science, which was extremely fitting seeing as we were in one of the most advanced planetariums on this planet. We learned that there was a body in the solar system that looks a bit too suspiciously like the Death Star for comfort (bring on the conspiracy loons) and also that if we wanted to meet other lifeforms out in the universe we were going to have to get a lot more clever. Sheila also gave us a brilliant demonstration of the power of electric fields with a massive plasma ball and a flourescent tube which, aside from lighting up with no wires, was stroked in what was definitely not a vaguely onanistic manner. Definitely not The magic bulb that lit up with the power of her thoughts was good fun too.
Robin gave us some more of his amazing wit and insight before introducing us to the wonderful Helen Arney and her Ukelele. She sang some of her very funny and sometimes rather poignant songs about matters close to the heart of all of us geeks everywhere. Superb stuff.
Crispian and Robin then took us into the interval with some society announcements (one of great significance – more in a later article) another hilarious commentary on some of the more insane creationists.
During the interval with a couple of beers inside us we were able to all regress, some not very far (me), to being inquisitive kids again when we got to play with all of the incredibly interesting and fun toys, gizmos and machines on the top floor of INTECH. This was great and I could hear people laughing and having fun all over the place. We should do that more often methinks. The flying parachute things that you can shoot up a tube high into the air were a favourite of mine along with the bizarre machine with a bazillion tiny plastic balls inside it.
And then it was time to return to the planetarium for our next guest of the evening. That incredible fizzing ball of energy that is the worldly manifestation of Helen Keen. Helen treated us to a Chrismassy set where we got to try to tell if the hidden faces were Santa or a scientist. I got most of them wrong but Jim scored with Marie Curie if you’ll pardon the phrase. Twice Nobel Laureate Curie definitely looks rather odd with a red fluffy hat and a beard. Then we learned that apparently if not for the NAzis and SAtanists NASA would probably never have existed. I’m sure it’s true
And then once again our MC Robin Ince took to the stage for his own set containing some brilliantly incisive humour and wit. He also made a deeply moving reading from Richard Feynman about the death of his wife Arline from tuberculosis. That Feynman could see the process of death from two perspectives at the same time, he was astonished that moments after his wife died her hair still smelled the same. For him, something earth shattering had happened, his wife had gone, but almost everything else carried on as if nothing had changed. Very moving indeed and a thought to ponder when we examine our own lives perhaps. The Feynman thoughts continued with Robin’s take on the nutty idea that only artists can see real beauty and that science is cold because it is only concerned with taking things apart and reducing them down to their components. This of course misses the point that Feynman and Robin make that learning and understanding are the key to seeing more of and in all the things around us. If we understand the parts and how they interact we see deeper than the surface. We see the details and the intricate jigsaw of life operating in incredible detail. To see only the colour and texture and smell only the fragrance of the rose is to miss almost all that the rose has to offer. What we see in that first glance at beauty is but a pale shadow, a translucent phantom of the true beauty within. Thus it is with the universe. We can marvel at the majesty above our heads and then return to our lives or we can marvel at the majesty above our heads and then find even greater wonders by understanding that majesty and the mysteries within and so reveal even more wonderous detail and transcendent beauty to feed our minds.
Robin was also very kind to run a spontaneous auction for some tickets to one of his shows in London in support of the Hampshire Skeptics Society. This was entirely unexpected and left me at a complete loss for words. I can only say thank you Robin for your tremendous generosity.
But this fantastic evening of fun, song, science and comedy was not over yet. Oh no. Still to come was quite possibly the most astounding, humbling and wonderful experience of all.
In the planetarium we were taken on a journey from the environs of our own tiny, insignificant blue marble, beyond the orbits of the outermost satellites. Beyond the orbit of the Moon, through the solar system and its cadre of be ringed gas giants to the bleak depths of interstellar space where we met in passing the Voyager probes, our robotic emissaries to the stars. Our journey was only just beginning with this first infinitesimal step. Out we flew, far faster than the speed of light, until we could see the stars themselves moving against their fellows to form completely different constellations and configurations until they receded into the distance and the giant 100,000 light year diameter of the disk of our home, the Milky Way galaxy hove into view. And still we flew. We flew through the galactic void until our home became but one more microscopic point of light amongst “billions and billions” of others. Each a spinning whirlpool of light and hopefully life in the universe. All of those points of light that looked no different to the distant stars, as we fled from familiarity into the universe, formed colossal structures stretching across the universe we can see. Strings of galaxies hung around the outside of bubbles of staggering voids. This structure became more apparent as we raced towards the edge of the visible universe. The scale boggles the mind, the distances are incomprehensible to our puny minds and yet we can see them and try to understand their relationships with the use of our universally useful and effective tool : Science. We flew further still, far from the edge of the largest structures in the universe that we can see, right to the edge, right to the limits of our visibility in this universe, right to the 3K microwave background radiation, that relic of the big bang beyond which we will probably never see. This is the limit of human knowledge.
We went there, and then we came back to our home. This small planet in an uncharted backwater of the Western spiral arm of the galaxy. We came back here after seeing the universe. We came back with tears in our eyes and joy and wonder in our hearts. Thank you for that Jenny.
And with some final remarks the evening was brought to a close.
We can only thank our performers; Sheila Kanani, Helen Arney, Helen Keen and Robin Ince for their time, commitment and their support. None of this would have been possible without you. We thank Jenny, Tracy and the rest of the staff at INTECH for allowing us to have such a wonderful event and show in one of the most advanced planetariums in the world. And of course huge thanks go to all of our guests who came to see the show and enjoy a science and comedy nerdgasm with us.