Pluto stars in the Planetarium’s new trip

We checked out some made-in-Montreal space porn about Pluto, and more mind-blowing sights at the Planetarium.

dark universe planetarium

Dark Universe: Voyage to the Heart of Dark Matter


On July 14, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft achieved another small step for humankind in its flyby of our solar system’s ex-planet Pluto. Nine years and roughly three billion miles in the making, major papers and scientific periodicals alike are now awash in the first ever close-up images and observations of its icy landscape and atmosphere, its morphological make-up, as well as its potential geological activity. To commemorate this historic event, Montreal’s Planetarium unveiled a new double feature in its 360° theatres.

The first is Dark Universe: Voyage to the Heart of Dark Matter, a immersive show designed by astrophysicists and visualization experts from the American Museum of Natural History, narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson in English and Quebec’s own rising illusionist Luc Langevin in French. Using the latest data to describe the universe as we know it so far, it’s a trippy presentation to say the least, as the camera’s eye is constantly shifting between macro- and microscopic views on the fabric of time and space. Shown in the planetarium’s Chaos Theatre, it’s a space aiming to simulate lounging under star-filled night out in cottage country with ample amounts of Adirondack chairs and bean bags so large you’d think they’d swallow you.


Pluto: Chronicles of an Ex-Planet


The real darling of the double feature, however, is Pluto: Chronicles of an Ex-Planet, directed by Maxime Pivin-Lapointe. Presented in the Planetarium’s Milky Way Theatre, which engenders a bit more cinematic experience with its circular movie-style seating, Pluto’s a multimedia show chronicling the scientific world’s developing stance on the dwarf planet/residential object of the Kuiper belt which circles our eight ‘official’ celestial bodies.

For those looking for more of a guided tour experience, the real educational experience of the film comes with its accompaniment of live commentary, setting the presentation apart from typical planetarium visits. “Most of the productions in other planetariums come with narration, and videos and images,” explains Pierre Lacombe, director of the planetarium. “In our case, we have a live person in the theatre so the public can ask questions and interact, so it’s very unique in the field of planetariums.”

Almost everything about Pluto comes from Montreal, from its homegrown team of scientists, astronomers and multimedia specialists, to its graphic designers which put together the film’s animations, all set to the music of Montreal’s own Early Jazz Band and composer Nicolas Borycki. One of the most impressive features of this film comes from the work of its executive producer and project manager Sébastien Gauthier.

Having designed a special camera for the production, Gauthier traveled to Arizona for beautiful timelapse footage of the Lowell Observatory, which began searching for Pluto as early as 1905. A scientist and multimedia artist first, Gauthier’s a true autodidact, using technology and multimedia to communicate scientific concepts. Having played with photography since the age of 10, Gauthier finds the practice “a great way to share all the wonders of the universe. For me, my work involves not only taking pictures of the stars, but to place the stars and sky in relation to us.”

While Montreal’s planetarium has been making its own movies since 1967 with photographic slides, the new Rio Tinto Alcan theatre has enabled its filmic teams to produce new, far more immersive projects that will easily grab the attention of science aficionados. “When I first moved here to the planetarium, I wondered how I could further push the spirit of discovery and the spirit of nature (in my work). So we put together a new team of film production and science specialists, but the dome theatre enabled us to do exciting projects. The final result is amazing. When you feel the environment and are engaged in the story, it’s much easier to learn.” ■


Pluto: Chronicles of an Ex-Planet and Dark Universe: Voyage to the Heart of Dark Matter will be showing at the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium (4801 Pierre de Coubertin) until Nov. 8. The Planetarium recommends you set aside two hours to see both shows in tandem.