Saturday, September 23, 2017

Adler Planetarium

One of my obligations on this trip to "Ketelsen East" was that I had agreed to speak at the September meeting of the Chicago Astronomical Society - at Adler Planetarium! I think it was a big deal because Adler is a big deal! It is the oldest planetarium built in this country and is part of the lakeside museum complex where Chicago meets Lake Michigan. In fact, flying into O'Hare the day before speaking, we flew out over the Lake before turning and landing towards the west, and had a great view of the downtown area, including the shot at left of the museum complex. This is a full resolution (cropped from the full image) and labels added to identify some of the major structures. The planetarium is on a manmade island which also used to have a small plane airport (Meigs Field). The airport was demolished in 2003 and "North Island" is now entirely park land, as is much of the lakeside. From the base of the stairs at the entrance, mostly only the original marble building is visible with the projection dome at center.

The original building was a 12-sided structure, and perhaps you can make out in the wide shot above, that each corner of the building had one of the signs of the zodiac. Four of them are collected in the collage at left - I just love the art deco design of these! Unfortunately, most are hidden by building expansion and while some are visible inside the additions, I suspect not all 12 can be located (I didn't have the time!). If you get a little further from the structure, you can see some of the newer additions that wrap around the lakefront side of the original building, also, you can pick up the figure of Copernicus seated on a marble plinth in front of the planetarium! The photo at left was taken shortly before sunset...

And you can imagine that with Adler located on a spit of land so close to Chicago, that the view of the city is great - and you would be right! At left is a 2-frame panorama looking down Solidarity Drive towards the west. Not exactly looking towards the skyline, which is a little more to the north, that would be the image at right! The image needed someone in it and luckily these two girls served the purpose well! The skyline view is great and in fact, there is a webcam atop the Adler dome, but I've not found a public-available view of it! It is used for several of the local TV weathercasts as it is a good indicator of weather and cloud cover, so perhaps it is now a "pay for play" camera!

Fortunately, I had an escort to make sure I got to the Adler from "Ketelsen East" in the far-western suburbs! Mark met me at the Geneva, IL train station and guided me through the station downtown where we were picked up by Tony of the CAS for the drive to Adler. If not for all this, it would have been tough for me to make it on my own! Melinda and I made it to Adler once in the last 10 years, and it was a tough drive, needing a navigator, then paying $20 for parking once arrived. The train was a nice method, but introduced its own set of "need to know" facts!

Anaglyph - use red/blue glasses to see Gemini 12 in 3D!
We had a couple hours to go through some of the displays. One of my favorites was an entire gallery devoted to "local boy" astronaut Jim Lovell. There was quite a collection of his papers and artifacts of his growing up and time in NASA, including the Gemini 12 spacecraft on display! That is it on at left - amazingly small for 2 people to spend 4 days out in space! BTW, that is a 3D anaglyph at left, so get out your red/blue glasses to see it in 3D. For those of you without glasses or only one eye, check out the similar image at right...

At an institution like this, you expect a good collection of instruments both historical and more recent, and they had a very good collection. At right is a selfie image of me taken with a thermal IR camera demonstrating invisible wavelengths not visible to the eye. I was wearing glasses, and carrying my camera that took this photo of the monitor, so they are near room temperature, and it appears my cheeks are the hottest (brightest) exposed part of me... I was also wearing a hat, so the top of my head is clipped too... At right, Tony and Mark examine a collection of antique telescopes from the early 1800s...

Of particular interest to Tony and Mark was a large refractor (18.6" diameter) Clark refractor that was on display. There was some discussion whether it still belonged to the Chicago Astronomical Society as it once was. There was some uncertainty in that...

Adler officially closed at 4:30 until the evening programs started, but we had arranged a tour of the adjacent Doane Observatory which serves as a public telescope at the facility. Located on the lake side of Adler, it is blocked from direct lights of the city. Our tour was given by long-time employee Michelle Nichols who apparently wears many hats including director of public observing. That is her standing in front of the facility at left, and in front of the 20 inch telescope at right. We were debating the various effects on seeing of the building - Mark thought the concrete walls would heat up during the day, but my thought was that the ivy shaded much of that effect. The dome is a little unusual in that it is the truncated cylinder as shown in the image. Because one side of the "dome" is heavier, the wheels wear unevenly and require frequent inspections. There also seemed to be an ongoing issue with collimation of the telescope affecting the image quality, of which all three of us offered assistance to inspect and adjust. While my time in Chicago is limited, Tony and Mark may get put to work to try to improve the images.

After Michelle's tour, we had "dinner time" on the schedule and while we had talked about a ride over to Millennium Park to enjoy "The Bean" and get a snack, we stayed adjacent to the planetarium and talked about things over a couple chili dogs at the stand a few feet from the steps.

Eventually my time came and my talk about working on the GMT project at the Mirror Lab was very well received. It was under attended though - evidently the thinking was that with a local concert, the parking was enforced at $35, which might have turned off a lot of club members - a significant jump over the normal $4 for night time parking! And even with us amateur astronomers preaching against light pollution, I had to admit that the night time view of the Chicago skyline was quite striking! I've got more from this visit to post - stay tuned!

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