Bad Astronomy at the Detroit Science Center

By Phil Plait | May 12, 2008 11:23 am

I just spent the weekend at the Detroit Science Center in Michigan, where they premiered the Bad Astronomy planetarium show. Hmmm… sounds like a good idea for a book.

Haha. In fact, the show is based on my first book, and I’m in the show itself, hosting it and doing some of the narration (local radio personality Rachel Nevada also narrates). The show covers some popular misconceptions about astronomy like astrology, the Moon Hoax, UFOs, and others.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure how the show would turn out. I’ve heard rave reviews of other planetarium shows in the past, only to see them and discover they’re horrid. So it was with some trepidation I sat in the (very nice) planetarium at DSC while Todd Slisher (the VP of science shows) introduced the show. The lights went down, and it began… and it was pretty cool! I liked it! It’s got a good mix of serious and silly, with only a very light helping of cheese; too many shows really lay on the goofiness too thickly, but this one had a light touch that’s refreshing.

The audience seemed to like it too. Lots of them came up to us afterwards to tell us how much they liked it, which is an excellent sign. One man made a point to tell us that he learned a thing or two, and what better praise is there?

While I was there I also gave two talks at the DSC, and another at the nearby Cranbrook Institute of Science, and they all went pretty well. It always throws me a bit when a lot of little kids show up; my talks are geared more toward people older than about 10, but I made do… and I always get great questions from the kids (does the Universe go on forever? Are all the rocks on Earth meteorites?). It was a lot of fun.

If you’re in the Detroit area, then drop by the DSC and watch the show. And if you’re a planetarian yourself, consider buying a copy for the show for your own venue. I think it’ll be very popular, and that’s coming from a true skeptic who would never show any bias at all.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Science, Time Sink

Comments (22)

  1. Gnat


    Do you have any plans to visit Chicago’s Adler?



  2. Dave

    I was at both presentations (Cranbrook and the DSC), and I must say, you did a great job Phil!

    I Loved the planetarium show also. But, I have to disagree on one point: it was a bit too cheesy for my taste.

  3. Mark Bobak

    Darn it! I’m in MI, and I remember that you were coming here from a previous blog entry, but I didn’t realize it was this weekend! I missed it!


  4. Phil,

    Thank you for the kind words about the Bad Astronomy planetarium show. The book, Bad Astronomy, was an inspirational resource and I think the hardest part was deciding what to include in the show.

    Depending on how you look at it, we are fortunate (or unfortunate) that there are many other examples of bad science out there. I guess that means we have material for many sequels…

    John J. Potts
    Technical Coordinator
    Detroit Science Center

  5. When’s it playing in Boston?

  6. Hmmm….
    Cheese is a problem?
    Do I ladle it on too heavily myself?
    At McCormick Observatory Friday night I did have one kid (whom we all know ask the darnedest questions) ask me if I have to make it so EXCITING. 😆 I’d been explaining supernovae & neutron stars, so I said “Yes!” but now I wonder… This WAS an audience of 4th graders after all, and one of them DID fall asleep in his chair… Maybe I wasn’t exciting enough for him…
    But I -LIKE- cheese, I put Gruyere in mashed potatoes last night when I cooked Mothers Day dinner for the wife…
    Rich in Charlottesville

  7. madge

    LOVE the photo! That is so cheesy it is positively GORGONZOLA but I love it just the same! Good job Phil….next…..Bad Astronomy the MOVIE! STARRING….Tom Cruise? Mel Gibson? Bruce Willis? : )

  8. Hey, cool! Wish I were nearby to see it. Sounds like they strayed pretty far from the source material, though. I mean, only a “light layer” of cheese? That’s not the Bad Astronomer I know and love.

  9. I like extra cheese, myself! Seriously, I’d love to see the show. Sounds pretty neat.

  10. Shache

    please tell me when its coming to texas! i want to see it so badly now!

  11. Kevin Conod

    We’re looking forward to having the show in our planetarium in Newark (NJ) soon – I believe the plan is to release the show to other planetariums in the summer, meaning that it will start showing this fall or early ’09 at various planetariums. Perhaps Mr Potts could update us.

  12. Michael Dean

    Do you think you might bring this to the Science Museum Oklahoma (formerly the Omniplex) in OKC?

    I would love to take my AP students to it next fall/spring…

  13. Hey Phil,

    Thanks for the kind words. The show really was a labor of love and I hope we captured the spirit of the book (as well as a 39 minute show can). But gee, not too cheezy? We’ll have to try harder. I thought for sure the International Sand Registry piece would put it on at least thick cheddar levels… 😉

    You were great with the audiences both large and small. Glad you could come to open the show. We really enjoyed it.

    For all you out there that want to see the show (shameless plug coming) go ask your local planetarium to talk to us about it, or better yet come see the trailer when it is presented at the International Planetarium Society conference in Chicago in June (yes, its being held at Alder…).

    And Kevin – The show will be available in traditional showkit form in late June to other Planetaria, with the full dome version coming later this summer.

    Clear Skies,

    Todd Slisher
    Detroit Science Center

  14. BlondeReb3

    I have to agree – I’m also a fan of cheese. There can never be enough of that!

    And I second Boston!

  15. Ian

    “Rachel Nevada” That has got to be a stage name.

    *checks BIO*

    Hmmmm. Odd. Still. LOL considering the nature of this site.

  16. Paul

    it was a sweet show. yeah sometimes it was cheesy but it was a funny good kind. really cool and i learned a lot

  17. Oh, BTW yes Rachel Nevada is a stage name, but I’m too much of a gentleman to reveal her real one 😉

    If you look it up, Rachel is a town in Nevada near many ‘UFO’ sites. However, choosing Rachel Nevada as a narrator was based on her voice, not the name. This was a total co-incidence. (Or perhaps Aliens were using mind control on me to select her as a narrator?… hmmmm).

  18. StevoR

    # Gnat on 12 May 2008 at 11:34 am
    Phil, Do you have any plans to visit Chicago’s Adler?

    Or Adelaide, SouthAustralia, please, BadAstronomer?

    We’ve got a great planetarium out at Mawson lakes … & some fantastic people running it who’d make you very welcome!

    Oh &, of course, we’ve got the southern hemisphere skies to offer you with their Magellanic Clouds, Omega Centauri (our new nearest galaxy?
    😉 ), the amazing Eta Carinae & its nebulas, the Dark Emu indigenous “constellation”, 47 Tucanae, the Southern Cross, the False Cross asterism, the Southern Plieades – Theta Carinae IC 20602, ….

  19. StevoR


    Typo correction : The ‘Southern Pleiades’ is actually IC 2602.


  20. Faithful reader

    What Mark said :-)

    Mark Bobakon 12 May 2008 at 11:43 am

    Darn it! I’m in MI, and I remember that you were coming here from a previous blog entry, but I didn’t realize it was this weekend! I missed it!

  21. I hate that I missed this. I wrote the center to find out if there was public transit from the airport, but they said no, and I just couldn’t afford the rental car for the day. :-(

  22. Adrian

    Hey phil, I saw and enjoyed the show at the planetarium at the DSC. You look good in an afro :). I’m also finally getting around to reading your book (bought it in the gift shop at the DSC).


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