BY STEVEN HOWELL
---- — MONTREAL — There’s a new museum in town, and this one is out of this world.
After a yearlong-plus hiatus, a move from downtown to the East End and a cost of $48 million (Canadian), the Montreal Planetarium, officially the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium, is open for business.
The new planetarium offers a sleek look, high-tech design and a great location in Montreal’s East End — a far cry from its former downtown outpost. Originally opened by Mayor Jean Drapeau in 1966, the Dow Planetarium was once situated across from the Dow Brewery and tucked away near the back side of Place Bonaventure.
The previous space nonetheless received more than 6 million visitors between 1966 and 2011, according to the planetarium’s website. The new location — adjacent to the Biodome, Olympic Stadium and Saputo Stadium, home of the Montreal Impact professional soccer team — seems a natural to attract a larger crowd. Some remnants of the past are soon to follow as the statue of Copernicus and the sundial that once graced the former grounds will make their way to the new digs.
Montreal Planetarium features “Continuum,” a 25-minute multimedia space journey set to the music of Philip Glass, in the new Chaos Theatre. This is one beautiful trip to the cosmos and back.
The round viewing space of the Chaos Theatre makes every seat a good one. Visitors will need to get in line early to grab the most coveted seats of all: comfy beanbag chairs that let you sprawl on your back to look skyward. The remaining seats that line the perimeter are a nice local (enough) touch of wooden Adirondack chairs.
The show opens with an inviting full moon on a summer’s evening — plenty of crickets, frogs and fireflies provide a camp-side chorus to accompany the setting.
The skies soon turn dark, and the trip ventures past the thunderous cloud coverage to planets, asteroids, stars and beyond. In the depths of space, onlookers are greeted to sumptuous supernovas and sidestep solar flares. It’s a dizzying, dazzling display of surreal spiral galaxies and intergalactic constellations.
Next is the more traditional “From the Earth to the Stars,” an astronomer-guided peek into the heavens, in the Milky Way Theatre. With the planetarium being fairly new — it opened just last month — not one empty seat could be found.
“From the Earth to the Stars” first looks at a simulated local night sky. The journey soon ventures throughout the Milky Way galaxy and to the ends of the universe, leaving one feeling very small in a great big good way.
The visit also includes “Exo: Our Search for Life in the Universe,” an exhibition that explores the possibility of life outside of our own universe. Here, high-tech interactive bilingual terminals and videos explore a number of extraterrestrial-style concepts from possible hospitable planets to the evolution of life. The wall of actual meteorites is pretty cool, too.
Steven Howell is the author of Montreal Essential Guide, a Sutro Media iPhone travel app available at iTunes.com.
IF YOU GO
The Montreal Planetarium is at 4801 Pierre De Coubertin Ave., Montreal. The area is served by two Metro stops: Viau and Pie-IX (Viau is a bit closer). By car, take the Jacques Cartier Bridge to Sherbrook Street. Turn right on Sherbrooke and continue for about 10 minutes. To follow one-way streets, continue past the Olympic and Saputo stadiums, turn right on Viau Street and right again on Pierre De Coubertin Avenue.
With a little patience, visitors can save a few bucks and avoid municipal parking and find street parking along Pierre De Coubertin Avenue.
Admission costs $18.75 for adults, $17.50 for seniors, $14 for students (18 and older), $9.50 for youths 5 to 17, and $52.50 for a family (two adults, three children).
Both shows are by reservation -- an absolute must. For questions, call (514) 868-3000 or visit www.espacepourlavie.ca/en/planetarium.