noirlab2024 — Organization Release

Big Astronomy Planetarium Program and Online Activities Go Live!

NOIRLab staff featured in major new NSF-funded planetarium program

22 September 2020

Big Astronomy or Astronomia a Gran Escala is a bilingual planetarium show that extends beyond the dome using web-based and hands-on resources. In Big Astronomy, discover Chile’s grand observatories and meet the people who push the limits of technology and expand what we know about the Universe using world-class telescopes.

Big Astronomy or Astronomia a Gran Escala shares the story of the people and places who make big astronomy and big science happen. The planetarium show transports viewers to Chile where the dark skies and dry, remote setting create ideal conditions to observe the Universe. By 2022, it is expected that most of the world’s ground-based observing infrastructure will be located in Chile, and the US and other countries are investing billions of dollars in furthering astronomy partnerships in the country. Big Astronomy introduces audiences to the wide variety of people involved in advancing astronomical discovery. 

Produced by the California Academy of Sciences, the Big Astronomy planetarium show has its world premiere on 26 September 2020. Owing to the pandemic, most planetariums around the world are closed, so the premiere will take place as an immersive 360-degree experience, viewable at noon PDT on either the Big Astronomy YouTube channel or the Academy YouTube channel. On launch day, the Big Astronomy YouTube channel will also offer additional screenings at 5 pm and 7 pm PDT as well as one in Spanish at 2 pm PDT. Beginning on 30 September 2020, viewers can enjoy Big Astronomy on YouTube every Wednesday at 11:30 am PDT until further notice. 

The NOIRLab facilities in Chile featured in this extraordinary planetarium production are the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) and the international Gemini Observatory. Other facilities featured are the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) and Vera C. Rubin Observatory.

CTIO is home to 35 telescopes, located at an altitude of 2,200 meters (7,200 feet) atop Cerro Tololo in northern Chile. An icon of CTIO is the Víctor M. Blanco 4-meter Telescope, outfitted with the Dark Energy Camera. In Big Astronomy, NOIRLab staff, including electronics/detector engineer Marco Bonati, assistant observer Jacqueline Seron, and astronomer Kathy Vivas, describe their work at the telescope and with the Dark Energy Camera.

Gemini Observatory operates twin 8.1-meter optical telescopes located in Chile and Hawai‘i. Gemini South in Chile, atop Cerro Pachón, began viewing the sky in 2002. For Big Astronomy, NOIRLab staff, including electronics engineer Vanessa Montes and Science Operations Specialist Alysha Shugart, describe how observations are made with the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI).

Chile is one of the best places in the world for astronomy and we are privileged to have a presence in the country,” said Patrick McCarthy, Director of NOIRLab. “The Big Astronomy planetarium show captures in rich detail some of the people and the locations that make our work, and the work of other astronomical institutions, possible.”

The show is now available for planetariums from the Big Astronomy website. Planetariums can download a copy for streaming and as 2k planetarium frames or order 4k planetarium frames with soundtracks in both English and Spanish. 

Big Astronomy doesn’t end with the planetarium show, though. The team has also developed an educator guide, a bilingual flat-screen version of the film, and a toolkit with a variety of hands-on activities to further engage learners of all ages. In addition, over the next two years, Big Astronomy will host a series of live virtual events featuring the diverse careers of real people who work at the facilities. All these pieces, including the planetarium show, will culminate in a new research-based model to inform the creation of future, more engaging, planetarium shows.

More information

Big Astronomy is a collaboration between Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University, Associated Universities Inc. (AUI), Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP), California Academy of Sciences, Peoria Riverfront Museum, Ward Beecher Planetarium at Youngstown State University, the Atacama Large Millimeter-submillimeter Array (ALMA), Vera C. Rubin Observatory construction project, NSF’s NOIRLab facilities Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) and the international Gemini Observatory. Big Astronomy is supported by the US National Science Foundation (Award #: 1811436).

NSF’s NOIRLab (National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory), the US center for ground-based optical-infrared astronomy, operates the international Gemini Observatory (a facility of NSFNRC–CanadaANID–ChileMCTIC–BrazilMINCyT–Argentina, and KASI–Republic of Korea), Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO), Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO), the Community Science and Data Center (CSDC), and Vera C. Rubin Observatory (in cooperation with DOE’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory). It is managed by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) under a cooperative agreement with NSF and is headquartered in Tucson, Arizona. The astronomical community is honored to have the opportunity to conduct astronomical research on Iolkam Du’ag (Kitt Peak) in Arizona, on Maunakea in Hawaiʻi, and on Cerro Tololo and Cerro Pachón in Chile. We recognize and acknowledge the very significant cultural role and reverence that these sites have to the Tohono O'odham Nation, to the Native Hawaiian community, and to the local communities in Chile, respectively.



Peter Michaud
NewsTeam Manager, NSF’s NOIRLab
Hilo, HI, USA
Tel: +1 808 936 6643

About the Release

Release No.:noirlab2024


Poster for the Big Astronomy planetarium show
Poster for the Big Astronomy planetarium show