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Space Museum to take film-goers on ride to giant planets

"Exploring Giant Planets", a new sky show being screened at the Hong Kong Space Museum until November 15, will take audiences on a wonderful journey to gaseous giants of our Solar System - Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

The show is enriched by an exhibition of the same title, which opens on June 30 and also runs until November 15 in the foyer of the Space Museum.

Being a gaseous planet composed mainly of hydrogen and helium, Jupiter is a huge and colourful planet. It is the largest planet in the Solar System in terms of mass and volume. The most prominent feature of Jupiter lies on its dark and light bands. These bands are the result of the strong winds driven by the rapid rotation of Jupiter and the convection generated by the heat inside it.

In 1979, Voyager I discovered the rings of Jupiter. The US Galileo spacecraft also arrived at Jupiter in 1995 and released a space probe to study the atmosphere of Jupiter. It discovered large thunderstorms in the Jovian atmosphere as well as extremely dry regions where air subsides.

Galileo also discovered four satellites - the Galilean satellites - orbiting around Jupiter. With more than 60 satellites, Jupiter has the largest number of satellites in the Solar System. The strong gravity of Jupiter will continue to capture flyby asteroids or other small bodies to become its satellites.

Unlike Jupiter, Saturn is characterised by the seven thin yet bright disc-like rings that surround it. The rings are made up of ice, which may also contain rocks or rust. The rings rotate extremely fast with varied speed, depending on their distance from Saturn. Due to the effect of resonance brought about by the satellite, the rings of Saturn do not form a sheet of particles with even distribution.

Saturn is the flattest and the least dense among the planets of the Solar System. Scientists therefore believe that most of it is made up of liquid, mainly hydrogen and helium. Saturn has at least 30 satellites. To further explore Saturn, the United States launched the Cassini spacecraft in 1997. It is scheduled to arrive at Saturn in July this year. It will then orbit Saturn for four years to carry out its observation mission.

Uranus is similar to Saturn in that it is also surrounded by rings. There are 11 rings, but they are rather dark and thin. It is believed that Uranus has a core of heavy elements enclosed by a mantle of ice, rocks, ammonia and methane with a thick layer of atmosphere lying above. Uranus possesses at least 27 satellites.

Uranus is unique in that it spins nearly horizontally. Its rotation axis intersects with the revolution axis at an angle of 98. Since Uranus has a revolution period of 84 years, the Sun will not rise for decades in either of the polar regions.

Neptune's interior is similar to Uranus. It is 10% smaller than Uranus, but is heavier than it. It is also surrounded by rings. Neptune possesses Great Dark Spot, a storm similar to Jupiter's Great Red Spot. Storms on Neptune are the most powerful ones in the Solar System with wind raging up to 2,000 kilometres per hour.

Neptune has 13 satellites, and Triton is the only large satellite in the Solar System to travel in a retrograde direction. It is also the only known active volcanic body besides the Earth, Venus and Io.

The 40-minute sky show, "Exploring Giant Planets", will lead audiences on an exploration of these gaseous giants and their satellites, enriching film-goers' understanding not only of the formation of the Solar System, but also the planetary systems of extrasolar worlds.

It is screened at 2.40pm and 6.10pm daily at the Space Theatre of the Museum. There is an additional show at 11.10am on Sundays and public holidays. Tickets are available at the Space Museum Box Office and at all URBTIX outlets at $24 (front stalls) and $32 (stalls), with a half-price concession for full-time students, senior citizens and people with disabilities.

Coinciding with the sky show is a free "Exploring Giant Planets" exhibition. Through display panels rich in photographs and explanatory texts, the exhibition will present general information about Saturn and the latest information supplied by the Cassini spacecraft.

The Space Museum is located at 10 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui. It is open from 1pm to 9pm from Monday to Friday, and from 10am to 9pm on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays. It is closed on Tuesdays (except public holidays). For further information, call 2721 0226 or visit the museum's website at .

Ends/Wednesday, June 16, 2004
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