Friday, January 23, 2015

Franklin Institute in Philadelphia has major science films, including "Wildest Weather in the Solar System", "Titans of the Ice Age", and "The Last Reef"

A package visit to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, PA includes some films, and yesterday I saw three “long shorts” of considerable interest, among a wide choice. .

Wildest Weather in the Solar System”  (2011), from National Geographic, is projected in the Planetarium as if it were Omnimax.  It’s directed by Dana Barry and Lawrence Gay.  The museum said it ran 25 minutes, but imdb says 44, and there seems to be a “free” version of the longer version on YouTube (not sure if it’s legal).  I would experience this in a theater (although I think that Imax is a better format than a planetarium).  The film starts with an explanation of a “solar flare” and coronal mass ejection (which it doesn’t name) which then blasts Mercury’s surface.  (The biggest CME’s can endanger power grids on Earth – and we aren’t fully prepared for solar weather.) It then takes us to Venus, and shows us the inferno-like landscape of a planet ruined by runaway greenhouse effect.  (This may have happened in the last billion years.  Maybe there was life there before.)  Next comes Mars, with a dust tornado, several miles high, and then a planetary dust storm.

The spacecraft takes us to the upper atmosphere of Jupiter, and the anticyclonic Red Spot, with its tremendous lightning. I’ve always wondered what the hydrogen “ocean” on Jupiter would look like, and the metallic hydrogen underneath.  The film skips Io (whose volcanism is interesting) and moves next to Titan, offering the best view of the methane lakes and dune-like mountains in orange twilight to be shown on film (that is, with very realistic animation and CGI).  The film says that methane thunderstorms occur on Titan – I wondered if the methane molecule has the electrical polarization inside (like water, with its bonding angle) that can lead to lightning.  The raindrops are large, and for long periods of time, the methane lakes are quite placid, with little wind.  There is one shot of a still black lake that is quite breathtaking.
The film moves on to Neptune, with the strongest winds in the Solar System (driven by internal heat), but also with possibly a liquid diamond core layer that leads to diamond “sleet” in the atmosphere (although there seems to be very thick water and ammonia ocean). The moon Triton has volcanoes of liquid nitrogen that lead to bizarre plumes driven by winds in the very think atmosphere.
The second film was “Titans of the Ice Age” (2013, directed by David Clark, again NatGeo) in the Tuttleman Imax theater, was actually OmniMax, which tends to distort the picture.  This 45-minute film (narrated by Christopher Plummer and Christoph Waltz) almost sold out. The film starts with a fast-frozen baby wooly mammoth found near the Arctic Ocean in Russia.  It then recreates a world where mammoths lived and co-existed with packs of wolves, and roaming sabre-tooth “cats” – tigers twice today’s size.  Had human primates not come along and developed tools and technology, cats might rule the world today.  It seems that the cats always drove away the wolves.  Think about it, humans are actually rather large in the grand scheme of things.  Most of the film is shot in the Wasatch Range in Utah.  The film explains how the Ice Age developed and subsided and contains a subtle warning about global warming. 
The third film was “The Last Reef” (2006), by Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas, shown downstairs in the Franklin Theater, a standard screen with 3D.  The official site is here.   The film starts by showing the gradual natural repair of a reef destroyed by nuclear weapons testing in the 1940s and early 50s.  It then examines coral reefs around the world. 

As a supplement, watch the 4-minute "Landing on Titan" short video (by Pop Tech) on YouTube here, with a simulated surface view from "Titanian Airlines". And here is a one hour lecture on the hdden ocean beneath the icy surface of Europa, by the Mars Underground.

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