(DoNorth/Jessica Blondell) From the corners of the continents to the ends of the universe, Montreal delivers an escape from the cold outdoors during the winter and spring months. Watch a star show across the Milky Way to Mars or venture through ecosystems from around the world. It all begins at Montreal’s Space for Life. Space for Life includes all things flora, fauna and extraterrestrial. Humans can connect with the natural elements that surround them as they explore The Biodome, Insectarium, Botanical Garden and Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium. Planetarium Inside the Milky Way Theater at the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium,…
- April 19, 2017
- by Jessica Blondell
From the corners of the continents to the ends of the universe, Montreal delivers an escape from the cold outdoors during the winter and spring months. Watch a star show across the Milky Way to Mars or venture through ecosystems from around the world. It all begins at Montreal’s Space for Life.
Space for Life includes all things flora, fauna and extraterrestrial. Humans can connect with the natural elements that surround them as they explore The Biodome, Insectarium, Botanical Garden and Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium.
Inside the Milky Way Theater at the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium, stargazers will find this circular room filled with reclined chairs that showcase the state-of-the-art star projector. Along with two other projectors used for videos and other visuals included in the show, this star projector displays an extremely accurate map of the stars that people would see over Montreal if all the city lights were turned off.
Many people find themselves wondering where elements of our planet or matter in space came from or how it impacts human life. “We Are Stars,” the new animated film at the planetarium, seeks to find answers to these curiosities. The 360-degree projection around the Chaos Theater is a 26-minute look into nuclear fusion and the making of simple atoms into complex stars.
“A Day on Mars,” the current favorite show at the planetarium, allows visitors to journey across the surface of Mars to discover the geysers, volcanoes and mountains that make up the desolate red planet. But first, be sure to pay attention to the constellations the guide points out across the night sky. It will be easier to spot planets such as Mars and Saturn with the naked eye without mistaking them for large stars.
After the double feature, the interactive digital exhibit “Exo: Our Search for Life in the Universe” offers an exploration of how different branches of science all work together to create astrobiology, which allows scientists to search for life outside of earth. Because the exhibit is multimedia-based, it’s always updated to adjust for new information or new exhibits within the planetarium.
The Biodome presents an expedition through five different ecosystems of the Americas: a tropical rainforest, a Laurentian maple forest, the gulf of the St. Lawrence, the Labrador Coast and the sub-Antarctic islands.
The tropical rainforest, the largest ecosystem on site, mimics a reproduction of a South American rainforest. Even though rainforests do not account for a large percentage of the world’s surface area, they are home to more than half of the world’s known plant and animal species, according to scientists at the Biodome. This ecosystem is kept at a fairly consistent temperature of 78 degrees, making it an oasis not only for the plants and animals who live there, but also visitors looking to escape the cold outdoor temperatures in winter and spring. Atmospheric controls keep the space at 70 percent humidity, imitating the driest season in a tropical climate. Artificial lights, maintaining the same amount of sunlight that Costa Rica would receive, make the plants and animals inside feel right at home.
Once inside this ecosystem, the path meanders from riverfront to a bat cave that showcases various plant and animal species in this warm climate. Fish, frogs, snakes, capybara, sloths, parrots and golden lion tamarins are among the species that call this tropical forest home.
From rainforest to maple forest, the next ecosystem is a little closer to home: a Laurentian Maple Forest. Just as it’s seen outside of the Biodome in surrounding areas, the maple forest inside is complete with both water and land features. Maple, birch, aspen and balsam trees fill the area and support the animals that live there, such as beavers, porcupines, ducks and otters.
These trees are carefully monitored and can go through each of the seasons just as the trees outdoors do. Northern climates change more than tropical climates do throughout the year, so the Laurentian Maple Forest is never the same temperature all year round. In the summer, the temperature will reach about 73 degrees, but eventually is cooled to about 53 degrees with less light to induce dormancy. Creating this dormant state gives the trees 8 to 12 weeks of “winter.”
Next up: The Gulf of the St. Lawrence. The smell of the salty sea, the crisp 50-degree air during the “winter” months and the wide open spaces for birds and marine life provide a great ecosystem for those looking to enjoy the ocean feel of Tadoussac, Quebec, where the mouth of the Saguenay River meets the St. Lawrence Estuary just before the mighty Atlantic Ocean.
The Biodome produces its own “sea water” inside the facilities filling the basin with more than 660,000 gallons to reproduce colors and temperatures of the cold ocean water found along Canada’s eastern coast. Visitors will find starfish, halibut, striped bass, cod, salmon, sea urchins, crabs and much more swimming in the water below the surfaces of the boulders on which various kittiwakes – gulls – and common eiders – ducks – perch themselves after taking a dip into the water.
Complete with a rocky coastline and cliffs that surround the swimming holes, puffins, common murres and black guillemots are constantly moving around and having fun with one another. Waddling into the Labrador Coast ecosystem may help humans fit right into this subarctic area. There are no trees or other vegetation here to slow the birds down. Watching the tiny puffins swimming through the streams, cleaning off their feathers and snuggling up with one another on top of the rocky cliffs is worth the trip inside.
The temperature stays a fairly consistent 55 degrees and light is simulated to match actual subarctic climates for these species to feel as if they are in their natural habitat.
Keep the arctic feeling going while entering the last stop along the ecosystems of the Americas tour. The Sub-Antarctic Islands takes visitors far below South America to a place where penguins roam the desolate icy land: Antarctica. Basalt rock formations modeling a volcanic shoreline along the island provide the ideal place for four different penguin species to call home while out of the water that surrounds it.
Walls surrounding the penguin habitat keep some of the chilly 37-degree climate that is maintained year-round away from people walking through. As in the Labrador Coast ecosystem, no vegetation is grown in the Sub-Antarctic Islands, making it easier to spot the cold-climate birds. Whether it’s a king penguin standing tall and claiming it’s space or rockhopper penguins with wild yellow and black feathers huddled next to one another, these birds are always a pleasure to observe.
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