We live at the bottom of an ocean of air, which sustains us and produces the beauty of the sunset," says a deep rich, male voice like all the voices you have ever heard on serious, informative television documentaries.
As the voice rambles on, a 360-degree landscape materializes on the enormous, aluminum dome of the Albert Einstein Spacearium, completely surrounding the audience nestled in Washington's most comfortable theater seats.
It is sunset, stars being to appear, and in a moment the audience is wandering through outer space, stumbling through the electromagnetic spectrum, examining a nebula where stars are born, watching the explosion of a supernova, learning about black holes and quasars.
"New Eyes on the Universe," a 30-minute show that opens today at the National Air and Space Museum and will run for about a year, focuses on new techniques, such as radio astronomy and observation from outer space, that have pushed back the borders of the known universe dramatically in the last quarter-century and have shown the reality of deep space to be even more strange than previous generations had imagined.
In addition to some spectacular pictures of interstellar space, the show includes a tour of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in West Virginia, a little cartoon man who wanders through the electromagnetic bands from radio waves at the low end to high-energy gamma radiation at the upper limits and picutres and diagrams that make vast, strange phenomena easy to understand for audiences of all ages. Although less gripping than "Star Trek," it is a remarkable vivid education experience.