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Exploring dark matter at ISU Planetarium’s “Phantom of the Universe” show

Written by on March 29, 2024

Photo provided by Thomas Willmitch

NORMAL, Ill. – The Illinois State University Planetarium is hosting a new show titled, “Phantom of the Universe,” narrated by Tilda Swinton and exploring the importance of dark matter in the universe. 

ISU Planetarium Director Thomas Willmitch shared why dark matter is a highlighted topic in the show. 

“The reason dark matter is so important to astronomers and, in turn, anyone who has an interest in astronomy is, it turns out that nearly everything in the universe is made out of dark matter,” said Willmitch. “The planets that orbit around stars, all those things are just a tiny fraction of all the stuff that’s out there. The bulk of it is this unseen stuff that is dark matter.”

This show will takes viewers on a journey through space and time and Willmitch hopes that everyone who comes out to see the show can take something away with them in the end.

“I hope that anyone that sees this program has a greater appreciation for just the grander of the universe,” said Willmitch. “This looks at, on the the biggest level, what the universe is like, the way the universe formed and how we got to where we are today. 

Willmitch also explains how dark matter is structured into our universe and how these will be presented in the “Phantom of the Universe” show.

“It takes you back to the time of the Big Bang itself, and you see how the galaxies, for instance, built the structure of the universe itself,” said Willmitch. “They’re not just randomly scattered through space. There’s a structure to the universe, and that structure is built on the scaffolding of dark matter. So again, this program just leads you to really appreciate how grand and how magnificent the universe is.”

For those unable to make it to the show, ISU’s planetarium has another option following the presentation of “Phantom of the Universe” for anyone in the community to come out and see.

“After ‘Phantom of the Universe,’ we show folks some of the highlights found in the current evening sky, so we’ll point out the bright stars and constellations,” Willmitch said.

The show will run every weekend until May 11. There will be no shows on April 5-6 due to their special solar eclipse program, which will highlight the moon phases and the eclipse, visible from central Illinois on April 8.