Our Vision: In 1998 Ansible was contracted to manage the development of the new Hayden Planetarium in NYC. Ever since we have been on a quest to put the power of real-time 3D immersive astronomy into the classroom.
Major Issues: Since bringing the Micro Dome into schools across New Jersey, we have encountered the following gaps in student and adult understanding of our place in the universe:
Most students in the Northeast DO NOT recognize the Milky Way. It is unfortunate that light pollution is so severe in this part of the country that most students’ rarely step out at night to see the Milky Way with their own eyes. The few that recognize it have done so while on vacation out of state or country. We feel it is vital they be made aware of this issue.
Many students & adults perceive the night sky as FLAT. In spite of the numerous TV programs and movies depicting space travel, there is a "blind spot" in our understanding of the 3D nature of the night sky. We must teach more then the mythology of constellations. Without knowledge of star magnitude and distance, the sky IS flat. At one point in human history it was believed possible to sail off the edge of the horizon. Is this happening again?
Many students are surprised by the basic mechanism of day and night. Before one can teach the phases of the Moon or why there are seasons, something as simple as viewing the Earth as it rotates through day and night is necessary. This is often overlooked when teaching basic astronomy yet is a key concept to all else that follows. We must not neglect the importance of the Sun Dial. Contained within the shadow cast by a stick in mud is the motion of the planets and the key to scientific discovery.
Many students & adults believe stars fill the space between galaxies. Students and adults often ask if the Solar System is inside or outside the galaxy. Is our Solar System separate from the Milky Way or part of it? Is a nebula also a galaxy? Unless the concept is specifically explained, the idea that galaxies are "islands of stars" is not intuitive. Before we can teach the large scale structure and evolution of the universe we must clarify the shape and size of our local galactic neighborhood.
Few are aware the universe can be seen in other than visible light. We are spending billions of dollars on vital instruments, telescopes and spacecrafts to look at alternate wavelengths of light. Most of the public has no concept of the universe beyond the visual spectrum. We must explain why building these instruments are necessary and what we hope to find with them. It is within these wavelengths of light that the new discoveries will be made.
It is difficult to differentiate real information from special effects. We are so accustom to the spectacular visual effects that permeate our "info-tainment" culture, we often loose site of what is real, what is simulation and what is pure fantasy. Technology can be used to clarify difficult concepts or be used to deceive and distort reality. We must teach our students to ask "how do you know that, can you prove this to me?”
Creative thinking is vital. Critical discoveries throughout history came from challenging conventional wisdom, looking at the problem in a completely new way and a willingness to get it wrong. If our goal is to spark the passion for leaning and discovery then care must be taken to balance “passive education” with creative thinking.