HORIZON: Beyond the Edge of the Visible Universe

HORIZON: Beyond the Edge of the Visible Universe

Hiromitsu Kohsaka, LIVE Company Ltd. / GOTO INC, Japan

Film review by Christian Theis, Mannheim

Length: 41 min

Unidirectional orientation

Release: July 2017

“How did the universe come into being?” “What is the universe made of?” – these and similar fundamental questions are at the center of attention in Horizon: Beyond the Edge of the Visible Universe. The show traces the development of our modern cosmological world view, starting with the questions at the beginning of the 20th century up to the current research projects. The viewer experiences the path of an initially qualitative model to today’s precision cosmology vividly and entertainingly. In addition to purely scientific facts, the question in human development plays an essential role. In the opening scene – with a reminiscence of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001 – a Space Odyssey” – it becomes clear, for example, that the sky has always been fascinating for mankind and still is today, as the fading to a person from our time and – as will become clear later – a researcher suggests.

The main historical development steps begin with Edwin Hubble and his observations in the 1920s. Here, as in other scenes, lifelike animations and actors represent the historical characters. Not everyone in the dome may like this, but in my opinion it is quite successful and gives some scenes additional tension, for example when you can recognize the cold in the observatory by the breathing out of Edwin Hubble. Further milestones of the show are Georges Lemaîtres postulate of the Big Bang concept, the discovery of cosmic background radiation by Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson and the precise measurement of this background radiation, which ultimately turned cosmology into a precision science. Overall, the central theme of the development of cosmology is not lost; rather, the complex aspects are presented in a convincing, comprehensible and entertaining way.

That milestones of recent cosmology such as the discovery of accelerated expansion (and thus the existence of dark energy) are missing may be regrettable, but due to the short time available and a clear narrative strand, it is understandable. What is more irritating is that key players in the context of the discoveries are not mentioned. That the expansion of the universe, for example, is a consequence of Einstein’s theory of general relativity is missing, as is the mention of the Russian mathematician Alexander Friedmann, who had already found the fundamental equations for the expansion of the cosmos well before Lemaître. A reference to the Russian scientist George Gamov, who emigrated to the USA, would also have been appropriate, since the background radiation was postulated in his group as a consequence of the Big Bang long before its discovery. One would also have wished for a reference to the successful European Planck mission – a successor to the WMAP mission – for measuring the background radiation, as it has allowed the most precise measurements of the CMB to date and thus the most accurate conclusions to be drawn about our cosmos. But perhaps this deficiency can be corrected in other translations.

The latter may also apply to the name of Georges Lemaître. I would have liked a more correct pronunciation here. On the other hand, I found the French accent of the speaker of Lemaître quite charming. Some planetarium visitors may take a more critical view of George Lemaître’s introductory scene with a little girl in the church. At least in Central Europe this will not be seen today as the happiest choice to introduce a clergyman, even though this scene was certainly taken without ulterior motives.

In my opinion, however, these critical points do not really weigh in. So my personal conclusion is that this show is definitely recommendable. The balancing act between a varied, entertaining and at the same time informative and comprehensible presentation has succeeded very well. Aspects such as distance measurement – explained by the change in the brightness of the lights of a city – or the conclusion on the expansion of the cosmos or the reverse conclusion to the Big Bang are very descriptive. I found the interpretation of the fluctuations of the background radiation, which is really difficult to convey in a planetarium show, particularly successful. The successful comparison with the music and the presentation of the analysis work by tuning the parameters (where you can see the associated patterns) do this in an excellent way. For those who find this too complicated, the essential result is immediately apparent: we, or what we are made of, are only a small fraction of the cosmos. Nevertheless, we are not dismissed with a disillusioning view, but rather the show finds its way back to us, who are part of this adventure of unravelling the cosmos.

Conclusion: This clearly unidirectional developed show is very worth seeing!

12th FullDome Festival, May 24, 2018 

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