Formation of the Moon

In this frame from Cosmic Collisions, the new 'space show' from New York City's Hayden Planetarium, the young Earth is encircled by a ring of rocky debris after a collision with a wayward Mars-size protoplanet 4½ billion years ago. The debris is beginning to coalesce to form the Moon.

© 2006 American Museum of Natural History

From the opening words, "Hello, I'm Robert Redford," to the lengthy dome credits in its final moments, Cosmic Collisions is truly a "smash" hit. The sky show opens March 18th at the Hayden Planetarium of the American Museum of Natural History's Rose Center for Earth and Space in New York City and will soon be offered at museums in Denver, Shanghai, and Tokyo.

The new "space show," as the Hayden folks describe it, can only increase their reputation for combining authoritative science content with cutting-edge animated scientific renderings of celestial phenomena. (Since the new planetarium opened six years ago, 25 million people have passed through its doors, according to director Neil deGrasse Tyson — about as many as visited its predecessor facility over 50 years. In Manhattan, where hundreds of entertainment and enlightenment venues compete for attention, you've got to generate top-flight attractions to keep the crowds coming.)

When you hear "cosmic collisions" you probably think of meteoroids, asteroids, and comets striking the Earth, but space-show curator Michael Shara cast his net much more widely than that. The show's "collisions" range from protons-on-protons in the core of the Sun, to stars smacking into one another in a globular cluster, all the way up to the future encounter of the Milky Way with the Andromeda Galaxy.

Meteoroid Impact

A dramatic re-creation of the meteoroid impact that hastened the end of the Age of Dinosaurs 65 million years ago is a highlight of the Hayden Planetarium's new space show, Cosmic Collisions, opening this week in New York City.

© 2006 American Museum of Natural History

Viewers are delighted by one spectacular scientific visualization after another, including solar particles knocking into atmospheric molecules to stimulate shimmering aurorae and what has got to be the greatest meteor shower you'll ever see indoors. There's a segment on the dinosaur-dooming Earth impact, 65 million years ago, and a magnificent depiction of the collision of a small protoplanet with the young Earth that gave birth to the Moon (or so scientists think). From a back row of the 100-foot-diameter Hayden dome at the March 15th media preview, I felt like an eyewitness to prehistory.

Those dome credits go on and on because at least 25 scientists and three times as many experts in computer visualization, graphic and performing arts, and production trades worked on the program, from Shara and composer Marcelo Zavros, who wrote the score, to Betty Lee, "3D Paint Artist."

Narrator Redford donated his services, and the cost of top-notch visualizations has been going down with the price of computer time, according to Ken Miller of planetarium manufacturer Goto, Inc., one of the show's sponsors. So Cosmic Collisions came in at only $3 million, much of it contributed by global financier CIT Group, Inc., NASA, and Goto. Don't miss it!


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