55 Music Concourse Dr.
Golden Gate Park
San Francisco CA
94118
415.379.8000
Regular Hours:

Daily

9:30 am – 5:00 pm

Sunday

11:00 am – 5:00 pm
Members' Hours:

Tuesday

8:30 – 9:30 am

Sunday

10:00 – 11:00 am
Closures
Notices

Please note: The Academy will be closing at 3:00 pm on 10/24 (final entry at 2:00 pm). We apologize for any inconvenience.

Parking and traffic in Golden Gate Park will be congested the weekend of Oct. 3–5. Save $3 on Academy admission when you take public transportation.

 

Life: A Cosmic Story

This award-winning show ran from November 6, 2010 through May 23, 2012. For current shows at Morrison Planetarium, please consult the Events Calendar.

How did life on Earth begin? This tantalizing question forms the basis of the second all-digital planetarium show produced by the Academy, Life: A Cosmic Story.
– recently awarded Best Fulldome Program 2011 at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival.

Summary

Life: A Cosmic Story begins in a redwood forest, with the sounds of wind and life. One redwood looms large, until we approach its branches and enter one of its leaves, adjusting our perspective to microscopic scales inside a cell. We see a pared-down version of its inner workings, learning about the process of photosynthesis and the role of DNA. This scene sets the stage for the story of life.

We then leap backward billions of years to the origin of elements themselves. The early Universe contained mostly dark matter, which drew hydrogen and helium together to form the first stars. The carbon and heavier elements required by living organisms came from generations of stars.

We continue our journey, diving into the Milky Way Galaxy of several billion years ago. We approach a region in which stars are forming, where we encounter a protoplanetary disk surrounding our newborn Sun. We arrive at the young Earth, splashing down in deep water to visit a hydrothermal vent and to examine the formation of organic molecules. We then travel above a volcanic island to encounter an enriched "hot puddle" of water, in which nucleotides (building blocks of RNA and DNA) may have wrapped themselves in protective vesicles.

Once life took hold, it radically changed our planet. Earth’s early microorganisms created our oxygen atmosphere—and may have also triggered a global ice age, causing temperatures to drop precipitously and nearly freezing out life on our planet. We continue leaping forward in time, viewing the movement of continents and the changing environment for life, until we reach modern Earth.

Where else could life have gotten started? In Life’s live section, a Morrison Planetarium presenter will reveal the latest news about the potential for life in our Solar System and beyond.

We return home to look at Earth once more, circling the modern globe to review the evidence for the story we have heard. Much of what we understand about evolution we have pieced together from the fossil record, but we can also reassemble evolutionary history by studying life that surrounds us today.

All life shares a common ancestry and common chemistry, all related at the molecular level. As we learn this, we pull away from individual images of life, and we end the show as we see their three-dimensional distribution form the double-helix strand of DNA. The audience is left immersed inside a representation of the structure of life’s shared origins.

Narrated by Jodie Foster, the Academy’s new planetarium show Life: A Cosmic Story is a high-speed ride through the history of life. Come explore the age-old mystery: How did life on Earth begin?

Frequently Asked Questions

Our frequently-asked questions come from people who have seen the show! As you ask questions, we’ll answer them, so this living document will continue to grow and change.

Q: Where was the opening redwood scene filmed?

A: Photographed at Bohemian Grove in Muir woods with the Nikon D3X camera and a 17-mm lens. Shot from a fixed point on tripod around 10:30 a.m. in May 2010 as the sun started to come over the hills. We used 37 views to cover 360 degrees, each with five levels of bracketed exposure for a total of 185 photographs at a resolution of 6080x4044 pixels. This took about 20-25 minutes.

We combined each view into a High Dynamic Range (HDR) image using Photomatix Pro, and stiched together all 37 HDR images into a 360 degree equirectangular spherical panorama at 12000x6000 pixels using PTGui. We then separated the panorama into multiple layers with transparency masks using Photoshop and Nuke. The next step was modeling the three-dimensional geometry of redwood grove using Softimage GATOR (geometry attribute transfer tool). This tool allowed the modeling of each redwood tree by using a live high-resolution texture projection from the spherical panorama as a reference.

The foreground branches were created from a high resolution photograph of a redwood branch shot in front of a black screen in our studio. The three-dimensional model of the branch was created by tracing the photograph onto a polygon mesh. It was then bent, twisted and copied multiple times. The foreground leaf was created from several high magnification microscope images of a redwood leaf. The images were combined and cleaned up in Photoshop to create a 15,000-pixel-wide image. The extreme closeup three-dimensional details of the leaf were modeled in Softimage using the contours of the microscope images as hints for the shape of its surface.

Q: What species of animals are shown in the Redwoods scene?

A: The ants (Stenamma diecki) were modeled, textured, and animated in Maya. Butterflies (western tiger swallowtail, Papilio rutulus) and birds (Junco) were also animated in Maya. Squirrels were shot with HD video in Golden Gate Park and composited in Nuke.

Q: What role does dark matter play in the origin of structure in the Universe?

A: Most of the mass of the universe is dark matter, which influences us (made of ordinary matter) through the force of gravity. Dark matter constitutes about 22% and ordinary matter about 4.5% of cosmic density, thus dark matter represents approximately 83% of all the matter in the Universe.

Galaxies form in regions that start with a little more dark matter than average. Gravity pulls the dark matter into big balls called “halos,” within which gas (hydrogen and helium initially) concentrates at the center, where the gas becomes so dense that it falls together under its own gravity and makes the first stars.

As noted in the show, “Without dark matter, the Universe would have remained diffuse and dull: no galaxies, no stars, no planets, no life.”

Q: How do we know what the Milky Way looks like from outside?

A: Astronomers can determine the structure of the Milky Way galaxy by studying star counts and the location of distant molecular clouds, along with other observations. For the three-dimensional Milky Way galaxy visualized in the planetarium show, scientific experts have provided the Advanced Visualization Laboratory (AVL) at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) with data and consulting to build an accurate three-dimensional model. AVL created a digital 3D particle model of the Milky Way, based on a high-resolution reference image of the galaxy M83, which resembles our own Milky Way. The sun is positioned in an appropriate location, 26,000 light years from the galactic center. The Hipparcos star catalog and additional astronomical observed data sets have been added relative to the Sun’s position. The model has been improved over the years by using methods for adding particles for dust, more stars, scientific simulations, and gas for added realism.

Q: How did you visualize the turbulent molecular cloud and protoplanetary disk within Milky Way galaxy?

A: AVL embedded a turbulent molecular cloud simulation surrounding the location of the developing sun in the Milky Way model. The adaptive mesh simulation was visualized using AVL custom developed rendering software. This numerical model was provided by Drs. Alexei Kritsuk and Michael Norman, UCSD, and AVL artistically integrated and rendered the data. Within the molecular cloud, AVL embedded a model of a Protoplanetary Disk. This disk represents how our solar system may have looked prior to the formation of Earth. The protoplanetary disk was visualized using AVL’s data visualization plugin for Maya. This numerical model was provided by Dr. Aaron Boley, Sagan Fellow, University of Florida.

Q: Why have we discovered so many planets in the last fifteen years? What was before, no planets other than our own?

A: Before 1995, we knew of no planets orbiting Sun-like stars other than those that orbit our very own Sun (the familiar ones you learned in grade school, namely Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars and so on). Observing the tiny influence these planets have on their parent stars provides remarkably difficult challenges for observational astronomers: it takes numerous observations from night to night of many, many stars to find evidence for planets around them. In fact, twenty years ago, many astronomers would probably have described the challenges as beyond the technical (and organizational) capabilities of most observatories. Also, at the time, most astronomers thought that extrasolar planetary systems would look a lot like our own Solar System, with small planets (e.g., Mercury, Earth) close to their parent stars, and more massive planets (e.g., Jupiter, Saturn) farther away; thus, they thought that most extrasolar planetary systems would be especially difficult to detect.

As you might guess, the bigger the planet, the easier to detect it. So we are finding more Jupiter-sized exoplanets than Earth-sized ones; furthermore, we have discovered that many planets are both much more massive than Jupiter and also orbit much closer to their parent stars. Indeed, the first discoveries announced in 1995 and 1996 were planets about the mass of Jupiter or larger, and they orbited their respective stars in a matter of days (Jupiter takes twelve years). That means that numerous planetary systems were easier to detect than most astronomers had anticipated: many stars had large, Jupiter-sized planets orbiting very close in, which makes for short orbital periods and a relatively easy-to-detect gravitational influence.

Over the last fifteen years, more and more scientific teams have worked to find extrasolar planets, so the rate of discovery has soared. They use a variety of techniques, and a whole space mission (Kepler) has been launched to look for new planets. As time goes on, we discover more and more planets, smaller and smaller planets, and planets farther and farther away from their parent stars. We also learn more about the individual planetary systems: we have measured the temperatures of some planets as well as the atmospheric composition of others.

 

LIFE

A COSMIC STORY

--

IN MEMORY OF

BILL PATTERSON

---

A PRODUCTION OF

CALIFORNIA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES

CONTINUE THE STORY AT

calacademy.org/life

---
NARRATED BY
JODIE FOSTER
 ---
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
RYAN WYATT
 ---
PRODUCER
TOM KENNEDY
 ---
SOUND DESIGN
CHRISTOPHER HEDGE
 ---
MUSIC
MIKE JENNINGS

---

SENIOR TECHNICAL DIRECTOR
JEROEN LAPRÉ

LEAD DIGITAL ARTIST
MICHAEL SCHMITT

TECHNICAL DIRECTOR / DATA MANAGER

MATTHEW BLACKWELL

VISUALIZATION AND TEXTURE ARTIST

PHILIP METSCHAN
 

MOLECULAR CONCEPT ARTIST
DAVE WOLF

CELLULAR STRUCTURE MODELS
JON VARNER
 

CAMERA ANIMATION
ERIK WESSELAK

PROCEDURAL ANIMATION

MAURICIO BAIOCCHI


LEAD COMPOSITOR

SCOTT FRANKEL
 
DIGITAL ARTIST

JOAQUIN JUTT


 PRODUCTION COORDINATOR
CHERYL VANDERBILT

PRODUCTION ASSISTANT
SHAUNA LACOSTE

EDITOR/ANIMATORS

TY AUDRONIS

GRANT INOUYE


PRODUCTION ENGINEERS

JON BRITTON

MICHAEL GARZA
KIRA HAMMOND

 
SOUND ENGINEER
MATTHEW WRENNE
 
PRESENTATION PROGRAMMER
CAMERON JEFFRIES

 

SCRIPT EDITOR

LOUISE A. GIKOW

 SCIENCE ADVISORS

DAVID DES MARAIS

SENIOR RESEARCH SCIENTIST

NASA ASTROBIOLOGY INSTITUTE

NASA AMES RESEARCH CENTER

TORI M. HOEHLER

RESEARCHER, EXOBIOLOGY BRANCH

NASA AMES RESEARCH CENTER

DAVID MINDELL

DEAN OF SCIENCE AND RESEARCH COLLECTIONS

 CALIFORNIA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES

 

CARL PILCHER

DIRECTOR

NASA ASTROBIOLOGY INSTITUTE

NASA AMES RESEARCH CENTER

 

W. BRIAN SIMISON

CURATOR & HEAD OF THE CENTER FOR COMPARATIVE GENOMICS

CALIFORNIA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES

JILL TARTER

DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR SETI RESEARCH

SETI INSTITUTE

 

SCIENCE DATA AND SIMULATIONS

DARK MATTER

BOLSHOI SIMULATION

JOEL PRIMACK
DISTINGUISHED PROFESSOR OF PHYSICS
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA SANTA CRUZ

ANATOLY KLYPIN

PROFESSOR OF ASTRONOMY

NEW MEXICO STATE UNIVERSITY

CHRIS HENZE
VISUALIZATION LEAD

NASA ADVANCED SUPERCOMPUTING DIVISION
NASA AMES RESEARCH CENTER

NINA MCCURDY
APPLIED PHYSICIST
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA SANTA CRUZ

FIRST STARS

HYPERLINK "HTTP://WWW-GROUP.SLAC.STANFORD.EDU/KIPAC/"KAVLI INSTITUTE FOR PARTICLE ASTROPHYSICS AND COSMOLOGY

SLAC NATIONAL ACCELERATOR LABORATORY

STANFORD UNIVERSITY

 

SIMULATION

JOHN WISE AND TOM ABEL

VISUALIZATION

RALF KÄHLER AND TOM ABEL

MILKY WAY FLIGHT TO PROTOPLANETARY DISK

ADVANCED VISUALIZATION LAB (AVL)

NATIONAL CENTER FOR SUPERCOMPUTING APPLICATIONS (NCSA)

UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS AT URBANA-CHAMPAIGN

PRODUCER / AVL DIRECTOR

DONNA COX

VISUALIZATION DESIGNER /CAMERA

ROBERT PATTERSON

VISUALIZATION PROGRAMMERS

STUART LEVY             ALEX BETTS

AJ CHRISTENSEN      MATTHEW HALL

 

PROTOPLANETARY DISK SIMULATION

AARON BOLEY, UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA

MOLECULAR CLOUD SIMULATION

ALEXEI KRITSUK AND MICHAEL NORMAN

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA AT SAN DIEGO

MILKY WAY REFERENCE IMAGE

DAVID MALIN

ANGLO-AUSTRALIAN OBSERVATORY

GALAXY CATALOG

BRENT TULLY

UNIVERSITY OF HAWAII

MILKY WAY PANORAMIC TEXTURE

AXEL MELLINGER

CENTRAL MICHIGAN UNIVERSITY

EARLY EARTH VISUALS
 BASED ON WORK OF

C.R. SCOTESE

PALEOMAP PROJECT

HYPERLINK "http://www.scotese.com"WWW.SCOTESE.COM

MODERN EARTH

BLUE MARBLE NEXT GENEARTION

NASA VISIBLE EARTH

EARTH MANTLE

ALLEN MCNAMARA

ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY

MOLECULAR MODELS

CYTOCHROME
PDB ENTRY 3DAM
AUTHORS:  LI, L., CHANG, Z., AN, Z., FU, Z.Q., WANG, X.

ATP
PDB ENTRY 1XDN
AUTHORS: DENG, J., SCHNAUFER, A., SALAVATI, R., STUART, K.D., HOL, W.G.

ATP SYNTHASE (BASE)
PDB ENTRY 1C17
AUTHORS: RASTOGI, V.K., GIRVIN, M.E.

ATP SYNTHASE (HEAD AND STALK)
PDB ENTRY 1E79
AUTHORS: GIBBONS, C., MONTGOMERY, M.G., LESLIE, A.G., WALKER, J.E.

PHOTOSYSTEM I
PDB ENTRY 1JB0
AUTHORS:
   JORDAN, P., FROMME, P., WITT, H.T., KLUKAS, O., SAENGER, W., KRAUSS, N.

PHOTOSYSTEM II
PDB ENTRY 1S5L
AUTHORS: FERREIRA, K.N., IVERSON, T.M., MAGHLAOUI, K., BARBER, J., IWATA, S.

PROTO-PROTEIN
PDB ENTRY 1NMG
AUTHORS: SCHNUCHEL, A., WILTSCHECK, R., CZISCH, M., HERRLER, M., WILLIMSKY, G.,
GRAUMANN, P., MARAHIEL, M.A., HOLAK, T.A.

ADDITIONAL MOLECULAR MODELING

CAMPBELL STRONG

MOLECULAR GRAPHIC IMAGERY WAS PRODUCED

USING THE MOLECULAR MAYA TOOLKIT (MMAYA)

WWW.MOLECULARMOVIES.ORG/TOOLKIT

ADDITIONAL SCIENCE CONSULTATION

DAVID DEAMER
DEPARTMENT OF BIOMOLECULAR ENGINEERING
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, SANTA CRUZ

FRANK ALMEDA

CHAIRMAN AND SENIOR CURATOR OF BOTANY

CALIFORNIA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES

 

BRIAN FISHER

CURATOR OF ENTOMOLOGY

CALIFORNIA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES

 

DEBRA TROCK, PH.D

SENIOR COLLECTIONS MANAGER, BOTANY

CALIFORNIA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES

TOM MCCOLLOM

CENTER FOR ASTROBIOLOGY &LABORATORY FOR ATMOSPHERIC AND SPACE PHYSICS

UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO, BOULDER

JULIE HUBER

JOSEPHINE BAY PAUL CENTER FOR COMPARATIVE MOLECULAR BIOLOGY AND EVOLUTION

 MARINE BIOLOGICAL LABORATORY AT WOODS HOLE, MASSACHUSETTS

 

FOSSILAND LOCATION PHOTOGRAPHY

STROMATOLITES

DAVID FLANNERY

AUSTRALIAN CENTRE FOR ASTROBIOLOGY

SPONGES

(HALICLONA SP.)

BART SHEPHERD

GENERAL CURATOR OF THE STEINHART AQUARIUM

CALIFORNIA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES

 

FIRST FLOWERS

(AMBORELLA TRICHOPODA)

DANIEL HARDER, PH. D

STEPHEN MCCABE

ARBORETUM AT UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA SANTA CRUZ

ISUA

DAVID C. GREENE 

DENISON UNIVERSITY

MARBLE BAR AND LAKE SUPERIOR

J. WILLIAM SCHOPF

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, LOS ANGELES

 

NAMA GROUP

PHOEBE COHEN

MIT

THE AGOURON FOUNDATION

ANDREW KNOLL

HARVARD UNIVERSITY

 

BURGESS SHALE

W. LYNCH

© PARKS CANADA


J.B. CARON AND BRIAN BOYLE

WITH PERMISSION OF THE ROYAL ONTARIO MUSEUM
AND PARKS CANADA

© ROM 2008  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

LIFE PHOTOGRAPHS

THE MANZANITA PROJECT
DIGITAL IMAGES AVAILABLE ON THE WEB FROM SPECIAL COLLECTIONS

CALIFORNIA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES LIBRARY

SHERRY BALLARD

FOSTER BAM

ALBERT P. BEKKER

GERALD AND BUFF CORSI

T.W. DAVIES

H. VANNOY DAVIS

LORRAINE ELROD

CHARLOTTE FIORITO

LLOYD GOMEZ


FRANCES ELIZABETH HANAN

STENNETT S. HEATON

BEATRICE F. HOWITT
DR. LLOYD GLENN INGLES

ALDEN M. JOHNSON

JAMES T. JOHNSON
ROBERT P. LILIENTHAL

DONG LIN

SUSAN MIDDLETON

JO-ANN ORDANO


DR. ROBERT T. ORR

MARGARET ORR
 DOROTHY B. ORR

ROBERT POTTS

GEORGE W. ROBINSON
JOHN H. TASHJIAN

GLENN &MARTHA VARGAS

JENS V. VINDUM

CHARLES WEBBER

 

ADDITIONAL IMAGES

COURTESY OF

RON DECLOUX

MICROBIAL LIFE IMAGES
NASA
MICROBES@NASA

 

SOUND SOURCES

 

BIRDS

LUIS F. BAPTISTA

CURATOR OF ORNITHOLOGY

CALIFORNIA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES

EXOPLANETS

JON M. JENKINS

(ARC-SST)

SETI INSTITUTE

 

PLANETARY SPACE

PROF. DON GURNETT

UNIVERSITY OF IOWA

EARTH

JOHN BULLIT

 

SPECIAL THANKS

GAËL MCGILL

HARVARD MEDICAL SCHOOL/DIGIZYME


 MIA MUNROE, LUCY SCOTT

MUIR WOODS

NATIONAL PARK SERVICE

CHRIS NELLER

CENTER FOR SETI RESEARCH

DEAN DO, NICK PEREZ, PETER ROOPNARINE, VIC SMITH, CAROL TANG

CALIFORNIA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES

MORRISON PLANETARIUM PRESENTERS

BING QUOCK

ASSISTANT DIRECTOR

ANGELA BERTI               HOLLY ROSENBLUM

RICHARD CASSE               RICHARD SANJOUR

ELISE RICARD               JEFFREY SCHWARTZ

ADDITIONAL IMAGE RENDERING

COURTESY

APPLE COMPUTERS

A PRODUCTION OF

CALIFORNIA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES

VISUALIZATION STUDIO

COPYRIGHT © 2010 CALIFORNIA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES

Morrison Planetarium

   

Morrison Planetarium

Morrison Planetarium is the largest all-digital planetarium in the world. State-of-the-art projector and software technologies allow the planetarium to produce the most accurate and interactive digital Universe ever created.

Learn more

Space News

   

NASA WISE mission image

Get up to the date space news in the Academy’s Science Today