Show makes ‘Worlds’ of difference

By Ethan Gilsdorf
Globe Correspondent / February 12, 2011

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Above your head, the dome swathed in fuchsia dims to dark. Thousands of stars emerge and begin to faintly pulse. Poised in the round room’s center, a black, sinister, pod-like device awaits, ready to obliterate the audience.

You don’t have to surrender, nor take it to your leader. Instead of blasting away with laser beams, this rotating contraption comes in peace — taking viewers on an impressively-synchronized cosmic trip from our own solar system through the Milky Way, and way, way, beyond (dude).

“Undiscovered Worlds: The Search Beyond Our Sun,’’ the new attraction at the Museum of Science’s Charles Hayden Planetarium, is more multimedia show than movie, and thankfully it’s a far cry from a Pink Floyd laser show. This bling-filled, whizz-bang spectacle combines voice-over, music, sound effects, and computer graphics, using high-def video projection, fiber optics, and digital acoustic technology — all powered by that brand spanking new star simulator called the Zeiss Starmaster.

An ordinary planetarium usually projects a night sky from an earthling’s point of view. The Starmaster can simulate up to 9,100 stars, from any location in space, and from any time 10,000 years in the past or future. And they flicker. (Boston is fortunate: It’s one of only two such simulators in the country.)

Once a brief “preshow’’ is over, “Undiscovered Worlds’’ begins its fly-through in search of “exoplanets’’ outside our solar system. As if standing on the bridge of the Enterprise, the audience rockets past stars named 51 Pegasi, through wispy gas and dust clouds, and across the surface of fiery suns.

“This is the planet Corot 7b, discovered in 2009,’’ the narrator intones, reading the somber script by MIT’s Alan Lightman, author of “Einstein’s Dreams,’’ as we soar across a CG volcanic landscape straight out of Mordor. “On this extreme world, rock melts on the surface. It is a place lethal to human life.’’ The museum smartly used other homegrown talent. Actress Debra Wise narrated, and Harvard and MIT astrophysicists served as advisers (and occasional narrators). The soundtrack was composed by Berklee professor Sheldon Mirowitz; its triumphant horns and angelic harps transport you right into a lost “Star Trek’’ episode.

“Undiscovered Worlds’’ is a tricky cosmic slingshot ride, both bombastic and informational, hovering in a cloudy zone equal parts inspiration, science, and spectacle. You leave feeling expansive, yet small.

Ethan Gilsdorf can be reached at

UNDISCOVERED WORLDS: The Search Beyond Our Sun

Narrated by Debra Wise, Lisa Kaltenegger, David Charbonneau

At: Museum of Science

Running time: 30 minutes