Where, oh where is the Great Big Bear?

When I was a small astronomer one of the highlights of my early interest was the London Planetarium.  It is one of those trips with my parents that I remember very fondly and still feel the edge of excitement from the start of the show, can still hear the narrator talking about “a bright star shining over the heads of shoppers on a busy London street – Venus”.  The amazing projector like something from the space program.  I still have the guide book three decades later.

London planetarium

Cultural wasteland – The Old London Planetarium.

It’s gone now. Purchased by Madame Tussauds next door, emaciated, gutted and then destroyed by an organisation with a penchant for cultural destruction (you bet I’m angry! Don’t even get me started on Warwick Castle…)

So here I am, now a father to a budding astro-nut in the shape of a big-bang obsessed, ‘Mars is my favourite pink planet’ almost four year old and while the site of the London Planetarium is a mere 20 minute tube ride away it is many years in the past and the Bakerloo Line has no worm-hole.

Which is why today I was with my daughter in Greenwich.  Up on a hill, looking down on the faded Georgian splendour of Britain’s maritime heritage is the Royal Observatory.  This is the home of the Prime Meridian, home of time keeping, spiritual home of British Astronomy and tucked away between the old telescope domes is the Peter Harrison Planetarium.  Opened in 2007 this is The London Planetarium reborn.

Peter Harrison Planetarium

Peter Harrison Planetarium, Greenwich

11am and we are here for “Space Safari” a show aimed specifically at the under 5s.  I will admit to being apprehensive.  If you are a parent you will know the feeling of dread regarding any sort of educational presentation. “Will it be too advanced? Will it be too dumbed down – or worse – patronising?”  My daughter was excitement itself, the driverless DLR had already started her day well and she could not get me up that hill quick enough for her liking.

Royal Observatory

The Royal Observatory, Greenwich

We got comfy and clutching her ‘space rhino’ (don’t ask) and her copy of ‘Fancy Nancy Sees Stars’ (great book highly recommend!) she began to listen carefully to our Astronomer for the show, Dr Edward Bloomer and she didn’t stop listening to his every word for the next 30 minutes.

Peter Harrison Planetarium

Entranced by the Space Safari.

The show was beautifully simple, involving a teddy bear leaving his bedroom and exploring the Solar System for “The Great Big Bear”, which of course, you may have guessed was Ursa Major.  There was music and songs, fantastic narration and questioning by our host and everything was pitched perfectly.  My daughter was so taken with it all that when the offer of meeting Dr Bloomer to ask a question was presented, Daddy was left gathering the coats and bags while she interrogated him about craters on Mars.

Prime Meridian, Greenwich

East meets west in Greenwich,

Well done Royal Observatory (the rest of the visit was an equal success) and thank you Dr Bloomer.  My daughter was buzzing all day and wanted to stargaze the moment it got dark (defeated by cloud).  I hope and I am pretty sure that my daughter will remember her first planetarium visit in three decades time as I do mine.

Octogan room, Greenwich

About time we had a woman as Astronomer Royal….

Do visit the Peter Harrison Planetarium and the Royal Observatory.  The planetarium has a range of shows and the Royal Observatory has a stated aim of giving the public access to a qualified astronomer and I was delighted to discover that this extended down to even the under-5s.

About astronomersden

Daddy, Hubby, Teacher and when ever I get the chance Astronomer.
This entry was posted in Astronomy, Greenwich, Planetarium, Telescope, The Astronomer's Den and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Where, oh where is the Great Big Bear?

  1. DougReilly says:

    Great post! Has the planetarium switched to an all-digital system or are they still using the optomechanical projectors? I haven’t seen the latest generation of digital projectors (it’s been a few years since I was at the Hayden in NYC) but so far the star field of the older projectors seems prettier…what do you think? Was the whole show narrated by the astronomer or was it pre-recorded? I’d like to produce planetarium shows…

  2. Greenwich has always been a digital system since it opened, the quality of the image is amazing- though I know what you mean, I do like the old projectors. They use astronomers to do the narration live and they are available for q&A afterwards, really fantastic set up, especially in a place as special as ROG.

  3. Melissa says:

    I’m thinking of taking my son with a couple of his friends for his 6th birthday, in your opinion, would this show be too young for him? Great review! Thank you.

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