Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Exploring Places: Prague Planetarium

By Narmin Ismiyeva | Prague Daily Monitor |
19 July 2019

There is a saying that Thursday is a small Friday. My colleagues and I solemnly believe in this - and other corporate traditions, and try to plan accordingly. Namely, every third Thursday of the month, after finishing our small-Friday work, we gather for drinks at the pub located just across the street from our office. This month was not an exception.

As a rule, everyone was quite reserved for the first couple of beers, (except for the junior correspondent, who, now actively looking for a home-based job, was as lively as usual). When beers were followed by the first round of shots, serious conversations began. With the second round of shots, we moved to really serious conversations. This is how the topic of astronomy was eventually brought up. The junior correspondent suggested a toast: “For Apollo 11! This weekend, it will be 50 years since humans first stepped onto the surface of the Moon!” We all cheered, and everyone started to speculate, whether they would undertake a trip to the Moon if they were given a chance to.

That’s when I had the negligence of blurting out the following: “In Prague Planetarium, they have a simulator that recreates the effect of driving on the lunar surface”. My colleagues turned and looked at me.

Someone said: “I have never been to Prague Planetarium. How is it?”

I took my time, trying to create the impression of pondering upon the answer, in fact, trying to pull my thoughts together. Finally, I came up with a speech. As I was talking, my words started to flow more freely, obtaining the necessary coherence - or so it seemed. I said, “Planetarium is something between a museum and a cinema. In fact, it is both. First, you enter the museum, where everything is interactive - you have maps, samples, simulators, installations… The exposition is not very big though, and can easily be viewed in an hour.

After seeing the museum, you can go to the movies. You can choose what you want to see - they have stuff for kids, nature and geography-oriented movies, the ones that directly address the subject of astronomy, etcetera. You can buy a ticket for a show directly from the box office, but it is also available on their website...

The planetarium hall is huge - “its dome is one of the largest in the world,” (I recounted from my brief reading on the history of Prague planetarium). “At times, when you look up, you forget that there is a dome above you - it feels like open space. Two projecting mechanisms are currently in use - the optomechanical Cosmorama constructed at the end of the 20th century, and the modern digital projection system SkyScan Definiti (how did I remember all that?). The hall still bears its old name - Cosmorama,” I paused overcome with the sentiment.

“The movies,” I continued, “are preceded with a lecture by a speaker who talks about the history of the planetarium and provides a basic introduction to cosmos”, (here, I chuckled, for the idea that the “basic” introduction to cosmos is possible seemed funny to me). “Last time I was there, the speaker told an interesting story. When Voyagers 1 and 2 were to be launched into space in 1977, one of the goals was to compile the records for Voyager Golden Record - a phonograph record that was to be sent to space as a message for potential alien civilizations. This record contains, among others, a greeting in 55 languages. One of these languages is Czech, and the recording took place quite spontaneously... “

I realized that my colleagues were barely listening. “Talking about languages, even though for the movies, you can request headphones with English audio translation, the initial lecture is available only in Czech, with no subtitles, so if you don’t know the language, you will be stargazing aimlessly for half an hour...” Here, I lost their attention completely. Another round of shots came. “Anyways,” I said, slightly offended. “Go and see it yourselves. It’s an interesting experience.”

It was getting late and, looking around, I thought it was about time to go home. Indeed, we had to call it a night when junior correspondent climbed on his chair and started singing Bowie’s “Life on Mars?”.

About the author:
Narmin is a literature student from Baku, Azerbaijan, for whom moving to the Czech Republic has become a great source for inspiration.