Reuben H. Fleet’s digital show Cosmic Collisions, viewed from earth
by Karen Kenyon
“Collisions, whether they are infinitesimal or massive, drive the evolution of cosmic objects in much the same way as natural selection or the collision of energetic particles with DNA drives the evolution of species,” Michael M. Shara, curator of the Cosmic Collisions show.
We may want to avoid collisions, but they are part of evolving life, and actually may lead to something positive. The new IMax film, Cosmic Collisions, now showing in an open-ended engagement at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park, explores this theme with extraordinary art and beauty.
We hope to never experience these harsh encounters, fearing collisions in space, but also in our human encounters — soul collisions (too much emotional pain); auto collisions (trouble, inconvenience, waste of time, perhaps physical pain, or cost!). We even want to avoid conflicts, or arguments.
But if we look up at the message in the heavens we can see that collisions are not always so bad, and whether constructive or catastrophic, they are part of the workings of the universe, they are inevitable.
The film, narrated by award-winning actor and director, Robert Redford artfully depicts these cosmic collisions and how positive or at least life-altering these collisions have been.
With extraordinary visuals we are shown that a planetoid collided with earth eons ago. This impact was so great that a mass of shards of rock and ice circled the earth. Yet within a month (yes, that’s right) some of this debris had come together to create our moon.
The earth had also been knocked off its axis, which is why we have seasons, Redford explains. And the pull of the moon causes our tides. These factors all were positive for the evolution of humankind.
In the film, viewers experience this enormous impact that heated the Earth’s atmosphere and hastened the end of the age of dinosaurs 65 million years ago. The ensuing destruction and darkness, combined with the subsequent volcanic eruptions and changing sea levels, obliterated almost three-quarters of all life on Earth. But the impact also cleared the way for mammals like humans to thrive.
Redford also tells of a future collision of our Milky Way galaxy with our closest neighbor, the Andromeda spiral galaxy — this cosmic crash will produce a new giant elliptical galaxy billions of years from now!
In addition to the film, there is an accompanying exhibit Great Balls of Fire!Comets, Asteroids, Meteors. It invites you to explore meteor specimens and scale models through hands-on and computer-based activities.
“These messengers from space have had a significant effect on Earth’s history,” says Dr. Paul Dusenberg of the Space Science Institute.
We learn that asteroids are made up of the same compositional elements as our planet.
In the museum, visitors can also actually touch a 22 pound metallic meteorite that impacted earth 4,500 years ago. Meteoroids are small pieces of asteroids or comets that either burn up in the atmosphere or, as meteorites, strike our planet, yet generally do little damage.
The composition of comets includes ices that warm up as the comet approaches the sun, resulting often in highly visible tails. In fact this year two comets are expected: Both NASA and numerous astronomers will be monitoring the progress of two possible “Great Comets” — PANSTARRS and ISON.
Comet Panstarrs should reach the Northern Hemisphere in early March and stay through late April. Comet Ison will be one hundred times brighter than Panstarrs, and will be visible starting late October through January 2014
But from the cosmic to the mundane! The following day after viewing the film, I experienced my own collision! Wouldn’t you know!
It was the auto kind, the bumper/fender kind, the backing out of a parking place kind. In tune with synchronicity, if nothing else, I thought.
After spending all that day in a bad mood, dealing with insurance, with rent-a-car people, and cursing myself for my “mistake,” I decided to take a more cosmic attitude. This ultimately may take some time, but it is certain that all things that challenge us do teach us and change us.
I recalled Robert Redford’s storytelling voice and his tale of the asteroids, the comets, even the collisions within our sun, some resulting in the Aurora Borealis. In fact, from subatomic particles to the largest galaxies, cosmic collisions are a universal force of nature.
So, to come back to earth again, if you are discouraged and downhearted about a job opportunity that smashed, a love relationship that crashed, a friendship that hit the skids, or an auto mishap of the colliding kind (minor, I hope), visit the Science Center. See asteroids, comets and planets collide! It will help you find perspective — and feel great awe, as well.
Our lives are so small! This awareness is what looking above can do for us.
The story of the cosmos is our story too.
Cosmic Collisions Digital Show & Great Balls of Fire! Comets, Asteroids, Meteors Exhibit
Reuben H. Fleet Science Center www.rhfleet.org
Karen Kenyon has been published in The Los Angeles Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, British Heritage, Westways, and The Christian Science Monitor. She also has two books Sunshower (Putnam, NY) and The Bronte Family (Lerner Publications, Minnesota) She teaches at MiraCosta College and UCSD-X.