Hugo Maree
00 31 71 565 4604

Several of ESA’s scientific spacecraft play starring roles in a remarkable new widescreen IMAX movie entitled ‘Solarmax’, which received its world premiËre at London’s Science Museum yesterday.

During a spellbinding 40 minute showing, ‘Solarmax’ tells the story of humankind’s struggle to understand the Sun, taking audiences on an incredible voyage from pre-history to the leading edge of today’s contemporary solar science.

Among the guests attending the unveiling ceremony for both the film and the IMAX movie theatre in the Science Museum’s new Wellcome Wing were ESA’s Director of Science, Professor Roger Bonnet, Dr Giacomo Cavallo, ESA’s Head of Science Programme Coordination and Planning, and members of the Cluster II project team.

Although it is impossible for us to pay a visit to the enormous nuclear powerhouse we know as the Sun, film producer / director John Weiley has provided the best possible substitute by allowing the general public to see for the first time a star in full spate as it builds up to its next peak of violent activity – the solar maximum of the year 2000/2001.

One of the most memorable sections of the movie includes spectacular satellite images from ESA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO). These incredibly detailed images from the battery of instruments on board SOHO reveal its bubbling, turbulent surface, as well as enormous explosions and magnetic loops in the tenuous, million degree atmosphere. By combining the images of the Sun’s surface through digital compositing, Weiley has created close-up, high definition images that allow us to see the Sun as we have never seen it before.

‘It was amazing to see the SOHO images in IMAX format – we almost felt the solar wind! ‘ said Professor Bonnet. ‘By collaborating in this wonderful movie, ESA Science Programme has found an innovative – and effective! – medium to share with the world its passion for space.’

Adding suspense to the movie is a section covering last year’s loss of communication with SOHO and the successful struggle to reacquire its signal by specialists at the spacecraft operations centre.

Also included in ‘Solarmax’ are animations and live footage of ESA’s next generation of scientific spacecraft – the quartet of Cluster satellites that will study the Sun-Earth interaction in unprecedented detail. Granted special access to the thermal test chamber at IABG near Munich, Weiley was able to shoot the Cluster spacecraft on one of the rare occasions when all four of them were together prior to their shipment to Baikonur for launch.

‘The Science Museum is very excited to have the world premiËre of this new film which looks at the Sun and its importance in everybody’s lives. The images from ESA are spectacular and we believe the size and clarity they give will lead to a whole new understanding of how the Sun works among the general public,’ said Alison Roden of the London Science Museum.

The general theme of the film is the triumph of knowledge over ignorance, light over darkness. This is exemplified by humankind’s struggle to understand the Sun and its relationship with the Earth, from the earliest times to the present day.

As well as drawing upon material from ESA and NASA, Weiley has included 20 weeks of location shooting, capturing on 70mm film many magnificent shots taken in numerous locations around the globe.

These include some of the most elusive and awesome solar phenomena: a shimmering auroral display over the Sondrestrom radar facility in Greenland; a total eclipse of the Sun over Aruba in the Caribbean; solstice alignments at ancient observatories in South America; the winter solstice at neolithic temples in Europe; a unique time-lapse shot of the midnight Sun circling in the sky over Tromso, Norway; and Sun worshipping ceremonies and festivals.

Apart from images of awesome natural and cultural events, the film has an equally valuable educational aspect. Viewers will gain insights into such questions as why the Moon has phases, and why we experience seasons on Earth.

Beyond that, the audience will gain a basic understanding of the Sun’s structure and behaviour, of the Earth’s magnetosphere or magnetic shield, of the significance of ‘space weather’ and of the urgent need to understand better our mother star as we become more dependent on technologies that are increasingly vulnerable to the caprices of solar behaviour.

Following yesterday’s premiËre, the movie will be open for daily public viewing at the Science Museum for six months, starting on 3 July. Advance bookings in the UK can be made by calling 0870-8704771. ‘Solarmax’ will also be opening in Copenhagen this autumn, and screenings are planned in many other IMAX cinemas around the world in the coming year.

The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, USA, is the film’s Executive Producer and Distributor.