The first time I saw the new planetarium, I was on my way to an Impact soccer game. I looked down from the stadium at the two gigantic cylindrical shapes that make up the exterior of the new building and thought it looked like abandoned space ship engines. I was intrigued.

pla2A couple of weeks later I went back to the Olympic park, this time to experience the planetarium from the inside. I spent my youth glued to science fiction movies and had the awesome pleasure of looking up at the night sky from a small Newfoundland out-port. On a clear night in that little village the bright light from the moon and millions of stars danced across the vast and blackened ocean. Surrounded by the bright lights of the city, you can’t experience the night sky the same way.

The experience I had at Montreal’s Planetarium (from Rio Tinto Alcan) was nothing less than awe inducing. It’s an architecture lover’s dream come true. The spacious lobby and entry are bathed in natural light and the use of raw elements in the structure is minimal and elegant. There’s a small exposition area that can be explored by kids of every age where on display are dozens of samples of meteors and rocks from other planets. There are several interactive screens that teach us about everything from dinosaurs to terraforming.

The real wow factor comes when you enter the first of two domed theatres. Once inside the Chaos theatre, find a comfortable place to lie down and relax. Once the show starts you’re taken away on a crazy trip through space called Continuum. Designed by Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon with a bombastic soundtrack provided by Philip Glass, it feels like you must be dreaming as you are transported at breakneck speeds through the galaxy and around the universe. The immensity of the universe is even paralleled with our planets own evolution, making an intelligent closing by return.

I thought it was going to be hard to top the first show, but they did. The second presentation at the Planetarium is more educational, but presented in a way that makes you feel like a child, seeing something incredible for the first time. While learning about the stars and their constellations in real time from a projection that must have taken hundreds of brains to program, we lift off Earth and start looking at things from a different perspective. We learn what the big dipper looks like from different angles and we see Saturn’s rings as we glide through them. A moment that made the hair stand up on the back of my neck was when we pulled out from our galaxy and saw the immense beauty that we’re part of. It was breathtaking.

If you were thinking about going, you should go. If you’re looking for something fun to do, you should go. It’s truly a spectacular way to spend an hour of your time.

I get shivers writing about it.