"The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands."—Psalm 19:1
"Space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly hugely mindbogglingly big it is."—The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
There's an interesting philosophical duality to the subject of space which is briefly touched upon in the new IMAX documentary Hubble 3D. The universe is so "mindbogglingly" large that many believe it is statistically improbable for Earth to be the only happy accident with life on it. Yet most would also accept that Earth's living conditions (atmosphere, proximity to the sun, etc.) are so improbably specialized, it makes our planet truly blessed. We may be a speck in the universe, but we're a unique, beautifully designed speck.
The Hubble Space Telescope was designed to give us a better understanding of the Earth's cosmic context. After its launch in 1990, however, Hubble quickly became a recurring punchline due to a warped mirror that essentially left it nearsighted. A servicing mission in late 1993 corrected the problem, and after some continued tweaking over the years, many scientists now consider Hubble to be one of the most important inventions in human history. The images it delivers are astoundingly detailed, showing us the wonders of our solar system and beyond. Hubble allows us to explore the universe in ways we've never been able to before—without even leaving the comfort of our own home planet.
Hubble 3D gives us a short history of the orbiting telescope over the last twenty years before primarily focusing on the Atlantis space shuttle's mission in May 2009 to realign and upgrade the satellite one last time. Thanks to IMAX's incredible screen size and sound system, along with state-of-the-art 3D technology, we're treated to some remarkable footage that puts us in the middle of that mission—from the deafening roar of Atlantis' takeoff to the astronauts' daily activities during the shuttle's time in space.
You've probably seen footage of the astronauts' living conditions before, but few films have captured it as casually-yet-vividly as Hubble 3D: the cramped quarters, the food floating before your eyes, and yes, a reference to how the shuttle toilet works. It's also interesting to see how the astronauts train underwater for their highly specialized mechanical repairs. As the movie explains, it's as if they're required to perform brain surgery with oven mitts.
The repairs are a meticulous process, and that's Hubble 3D's only noteworthy drawback. Two-thirds of the film is spent on the shuttle mission, and like any reality show on TV these days, the film tends to oversell the drama, allowing the pacing to become bogged down by minutia. Yes, these are critical details, the astronauts' safety is central to the story, and indeed, it's still all depicted in lifelike 3D. But the movie focuses too much on things like making sure to take out circuit boards without cutting through the space suit, or ensuring forty-something screws are carefully removed one at a time, or stressing over whether or not a mechanical arm will fold back into Hubble's casing.
Yawn. We know the mission was a success. Show us the universe!
Surprisingly, Hubble 3D doesn't show quite as much of the telescope's incredible photography as you might expect. (You can always check out the official online gallery for that.) But the filmmakers have come up with something far more unique. The Hubble team worked with the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign to interpret Hubble's cosmic data, accurately mapping the stars and rendering it with 3D animation.
In other words, about 15 minutes of footage will make you feel like you're flying through the universe past billions of stars and nebulae. This is the main reason you'll want to see the movie. Though clearly not real footage, the science behind it is.
The journey to the Orion Nebula alone makes this a trip worth taking. There you'll see a "star nursery" with an image that suggests how our solar system may have looked before its creation. And considering that things have to be scaled down somewhat to allow our tiny-minded perspective to take it all in, you could say shots like this offer us a glimpse of God's unique perspective of the universe.
As a Christian, it's also interesting to consider that the further Hubble looks to the edge of the observable universe, the more blurry everything appears. Now, is that because the telescope's capabilities have been stretched to their limits? Or does it have to do with the fact that light takes so long to travel to us from so far—in other words, are we looking back in time and glimpsing other "formless" heavenly bodies before creation (Genesis 1:2)?
Hubble 3D doesn't weigh in heavily on theories of Big Bangs, evolution, or creation. Instead, it focuses on putting the world's most powerful telescope in orbit and lets the visual data speak for itself. Are there other planets like Earth out there? Does it matter? If anything, Hubble 3D reiterates just how precious our world really is in the cold vastness of space.
The science and visuals make this film ideal for school field trips, for home school groups, or just for discussing the cosmos with the kids. Though the movie doesn't show as much of the universe as we'd like, it certainly gives us a tantalizing taste that follows the old entertainment adage of "leave 'em wanting more." I smell a sequel once the Hubble scientists gather more intel, and I would welcome it.Discussion starters
- What comes to mind when you look at the stars and planets? Why do the stars and other heavenly bodies exist in space?
- Earth is just a small speck in a vast universe. Does that make you feel more insignificant or special in the big picture? What is the deciding factor between those two perspectives? Is Earth all the more special because we're a happy accident or because we're uniquely blessed by a Creator?
- Do you believe there are other inhabited worlds in the universe? How important is it that we find "another Earth"? How likely do you think it is that we will? Does that change your perspective of how we should regard our current home?
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Hubble 3D is rated G and is suitable for all audiences. There are a couple references to the universe being billions of years old, but there's nothing that suggests a "pro science, anti religion" point of view. The film's short running time and mix of shuttle footage with Hubble image rendering makes it ideal for field trips and general discussions about our place in God's universe.
Photos © Warner Brothers Pictures
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