The new Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium managed to squeeze in between the empty, aging Olympic Stadium, the new Saputo Stadium – home to the Montreal Impact soccer club – and the Biodome, which was converted from the shell of the 1976 Olympics Velodrome. Montreal’s planetarium looks like it has two giant tin cans sticking out of its roof. These turn out to be the superstructures for the two vaulted sky rooms which host their centrepiece shows.
Last week I shepherded two young charges into the first room, which you are told to enter holding your shoes in hand. It has dozens of large bean bags in the centre surrounded along its circular wall by a ring of Adirondack chairs. Either seating choice allows you lie back and gaze comfortably up to the apex of the dome. Lights dim and a musically accompanied light show flings you out of our solar system, across the Milky Way Galaxy and beyond.
At times, the images of our macro-reality appeared to mirror the elaborate neural pathways of the micro universe within our own brains. When the lights came up, we found our footing after the cosmic journey and headed off towards the second, more traditional planetarium with reclining theatre seating. Our guide first led us on a focused journey among the stars of the summer sky which, of course, the late light of our Yukon summer night obscures.
A tour of Milky Way Galaxy then followed, providing us with a perspective on our place in it. Sitting two-thirds of the way out from the centre of our galaxy on a spur of the Orion Arm showed everyone how relatively insignificant our small yellow sun and its tag-along planets actually are. The constellation Sagittarius directs our view towards the heart of our barred elliptical galaxy some 28,000 light years away.
We and all of the vastness that surrounds us are in motion. Our solar system moves at an estimated 600 kilometres a second in its quarter-of-a-billion year orbit around the heart of the galaxy. At the same time the whole galactic mass, over 120,000 light years in diameter, speeds away along with everything else from its Big Bang natal point and the fringe of our universe continues to expand.
In my lifetime, our understanding of the universe has also expanded enormously. Yet we still have so much further to go in unravelling its mysteries. Astrophysicists and cosmologists use science and reason to guide their inquiries. Here on planet Earth, all too often it seems that our political and corporate leaders fail to use these, or for that matter, any ethical standards as a basis for their decisions.
In a world where a stock transaction can be completed in 124 microseconds, the University of Bristol’s John Cartlidge (in a February 16, 2012 Wired interview) remarked that the speed of trades results “in a world dominated by a global financial market of which we have no sound theoretical understanding.” Lust for profit drives the need for speed beyond the point of recklessness in other facets of our economic decision-making as well.
At this point in our collective history the endemic pursuit of short-term material wealth and power within our globalized, largely unregulated system places all of us at great risk. Maybe we need to just slow down and focus on the essentials. What do we really need in order to live rich, fulfilling lives? What do we need to do in order to build a just, environmentally sustainable world order? What lies in the stars for us?
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sunday, July 21 – 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time. A suggested reading is Luke 10: 38-42.
Monday, July 22 – Asalhka Puja celebrates the beginning of the Buddha’s teaching.
Tuesday, July 23 – The birthday of Haile Selassie I in 1892 is celebrated by Rastafarians who call their founding inspiration Jah.
Wednesday, July 24 – Pioneer Day is the observance of the arrival of the first Mormon settlers at the Great Salt Lake in Utah in 1847.
Thursday, July 25 – U.S. troops led by General Nelson A. Miles invaded Puerto Rico in 1898. Kwanlin Canyon south of Whitehorse on the Yukon River was inappropriately renamed for General Miles.