Photo: Astronomy & Culture exhibit at the Adler Planetarium (photo courtesy of the Adler Planetarium).
As different as the world’s various cultures might seem, most share some very intriguing similarities. The most common similarity across all human cultures is the need to understand our relationship to the larger world around us.
In many ways, that’s the underlining principle behind Astronomy & Culture, a fascinating exhibit at the Adler Planetarium that examines how people have looked at the heavens throughout the centuries and relied upon celestial movements and patterns to inform on their own place in the universe.
From ancient Egyptians to the medieval Europeans and cultures in the Middle East, people have always looked to the heavens in a quest to make sense of the world around them, and traditionally, Astronomy and Culture draws the lines that connect us in our search for meaning in the heavens.
The exhibit begins with two interactive work stations that lay the groundwork for just the kind of exploration Astronomy & Culture presents. Explore five ancient civilizations around the globe and begin to understand how they studied the stars and the sun to gain insight into agricultural practices, hunting stratagem and the changing of the seasons.
Learn how ancient cultures from China to Ireland gleaned symbolic significance from the cycles of the moon and connected celestial happenings to experiences here on earth, essentially learning how to “predict” events in our world, fulfilling the universal need to gain a sense of “control” over our own environment.
The exhibit does a great job of packing a world of information in a tightly wound space, with themed sections orbiting cleverly about the exhibit’s core. That core’s chief component includes interactive stations that offer creative ways of testing out the application of the information presented in the exhibition.
Astronomy & Culture tells seemingly countless anecdotes about the many ways in which people the world over relied on the sky for order throughout the centuries. Whether as a clock, a calendar or compass, societies have always sought meaning and understanding through the heavens above us.
The exhibit also reveals some of the Adler’s extensive collection of historic scientific instruments. From the ancient armillary sphere, whose network of rings were reference points for imaginary orbital lines in the sky, to the astrolabe, a medieval navigation instrument determining longitude and latitude for ancient astronomers and navigators, the exhibition gets visitors up-close-and-personal with some amazing artifacts.
So often, we look to the heavens and see only the wondrous spectacle of nature that they represent. But imagine a life without the powerful technological and information resources we have at our fingertips today, when people probed the heavens to satisfy a very basic need for safety and sustenance. Astronomy & Culture helps us do just that and to understand just how universal that probing can really be.