Inspired by WhyMommy

A little while ago, we made a trip into our capital city with the children.  The observatory and planetarium were re-opening after a long closure, and there was an open day.

We rode the cable car to the top of the hill, to the children’s delight.  I told them how I used to “have to” ride it every day to get to classes at the university.  Their eyes went huge, and envious looks came over their faces.  I promised that one day they could go to university, too.  And yes, ride the cable car up the hill.

Once at the top, we made our way to the observatory.  I was shocked and dismayed by the long queue of people waiting to get in.  “Oh well,” I said, “I’ll stand in line while you lot check out some of the smaller buildings, and we’ll see how fast it’s moving.”

It turned out that you needed tickets for the planetarium show, and they had all been snapped up that morning.  The exhibition could only hold a limited number of people, and people were being admitted a few at a time.  To my incredible good fortune, a couple behind me had two spare tickets (their children had decided not to come), which they gave to me!

No longer having to wait in line, I helped Pearl to make a spectroscope at one of the “activity stations” which were set up around the place.  We discussed how to use the two tickets, and decided The Dad should take Pearl and Fainjin to the show, as they would appreciate it more than Babess.  I would come in with them, and wait inside the exhibition.

But more good fortune awaited.  I had explained to the planetarium staff that I (and Babess) would wait for the rest of the family – the show was 20 minutes long – so, when at the last minute they discovered they had one empty seat, they called me in!  We got to see the start of a regular planetarium show, just a couple of minutes but Fainjin loved it because it showed a spaceman and a space shuttle.  Then we were taken on a tour of the local night sky.  We zoomed in on Mars, and were told that’s red because “it’s rusty”.  While the astronomer talked about iron oxide, I was delighted to watch Phobos and Deimos dance around in their orbits.

Then we heard about constellations, particularly the Southern Cross, and how to find the celestial South Pole using the stars.  It’s harder than finding North, being in an “empty” part of space.  You have to find the Southern Cross, its Pointers, then Achernar, and triangulate.  The projectionist rotated the sky for us so we could see how the stars appear to move around the pole.  The astronomer talked about the zodiac – stressing that she did not believe in astrology, but explaining how the sun appears to travel in front of the constellations of the zodiac – and explained why the constellations appear upside-down to us.

Pearl and Fainjin loved the show.  Babess was a little unnerved at first, but gazed absorbedly up at the stars after a while.

After the show, we moved through the exhibition.  It was very crowded, so we didn’t see it all, but Pearl loved tossing balls into a gravity-well simulator, and The Dad had fun with an interactive Drake Equation calculator.  There were some small meteorites, a map of the Milky Way, and some information on Maori astronomy.  There’s a great display on Maui taming the sun, you can pull on a rope yourself and see the fiery sun change into the face of the fierce sun god.  There are lots of short films and things to read.

We will have to go back on a quieter occasion to take it all in.

Mindful of the long line of people still waiting to get in – and it was now after 4pm! – we made our way out, and back to the cable car.  On the way home, the children chattered non-stop about the moon, and the stars, and the planets, and the spaceman, and the cable car, and rockets, and can-we-go-again-Mummy?, and the cable car, and the stars…

And my mind was on WhyMommy.  What an amazing, thrilling job she has!  And as well as that, she works so hard to promote planetary science as a career, women planetary scientists, and science in general as a career for women.  She takes her children to science museums, they have a great time, and she writes about it – so inspiring more of us to do the same thing.  I wonder how many children have had an exciting science experience as a direct result of her writing?

We will go back.  And Fainjin, having collected a cable car brochure on his travels, now brings it to me at least twice a day, saying, “Look Mummy!  We went on da table tar and we saw da Moon and da stars!”

Thank you, Susan.


Susan is having surgery today to remove six further tumours in her lymph nodes.  She’s a little younger than I am, and her younger son is the same age as Fainjin.  She’s won one battle against cancer already.

This post is part of Team WhyMommy’s Virtual Science Fair, our way of showing our support and telling her how much she means to us, and reminding her what a strong presence she is in our world.  Please check out some of the posts listed here, and – if you like – perhaps visit WhyMommy’s blog and leave her a hug.

Thanks to Stimey for getting us organised!

5 Responses to “Inspired by WhyMommy”

  1. Whymommy Says:

    Wow — that trip sounds like great fun! The Southern Cross must be beautiful — and can you see Draco, the dragon? I wish we could. This is awesome, Kate!

  2. Sunday Stilwell Says:

    WOW! Stimey wasn’t kidding when she said bloggers all over the WORLD were blogging in honor of Susan! That is awesome!

    This sounds like a great day trip with the kids!

  3. aimee @ smilingmama Says:

    WHat a fun trip! I definitely need to take my son to visit a planetarium soon.

  4. Stimey Says:

    This is so cool! Today Quinn told me that he wanted to get a telescope. Such a great day for him to give me that out of the blue request. We’re going to have to visit a planetarium soon too. I’m glad that the stars aligned for you (ha, ha) and you made it inside!

    Thanks so much for taking part in the science fair!

  5. landscronan Says:

    Oh I love this post! i love kids getting excited about space and the stars and planets. Just one thing that i hope Holly will learn to love as well.

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