Cernan Earth and Space Center
Grade Level: 3rd grade and upLength: 40 minutes
This multimedia planetarium program takes viewers on an imaginary trip backwards and forwards in time to investigate the history of time keeping.
Time Bandits begins on New Year's Eve in the year 1999. Four children – Emily, Albert, Meg and Kristin – are playing in their parent's attic while mom and dad host a millennium party downstairs. With the lights turned off, the children gaze out at the stars. Meg identifies Capella, a bright star that is 42 light years away, the same age as her mother. The children briefly discuss this, and Albert explains why some people say the millennium will start in 2000 while others insist it doesn't start until 2001. They conclude that timekeeping in general is an invention of man and that different cultures use different calendars to mark the passage of time.
In the attic near the children is a grandfather clock. When the clock strikes 13 times, they realize that it's broken. When Meg crawls inside the clock to attempt a repair, she is magically transported into space, where she meets an alien creature named Zontar, the time bandit. Zontar explains that they were now in a place called Zaria, which is a space-time tunnel system that allows rapid transport to different places and times throughout the universe. Meanwhile, back in the attic, the other three children try to rescue Meg, but instead they too are pulled into Zaria.
Zontar escorts the four children to a variety of destinations. At the children's request, they explore the farthest planet Pluto and its moon Charon, and then travel to the other extreme in the solar system – Mercury. Finally, they return to Earth and discuss how people measure the passage of time. They come to realize that the Earth's rotation determines the day, the moon's revolution determines the month, and the Earth's revolution determines the year. They explain how 10 days were removed from the calendar in 1582 to bring it back in agreement with the seasons. Farther back in time, they discuss how the Babylonians invented our "60-second, 60-minute, 24-hour" method of measuring time, as well as astrology and the Zodiac. They learn that the days of our week were a Roman invention, and they discuss that next.
Zontar then transports the children into the next millennium (the year 3000), where they explore Mars. In this hypothetical look into the future, humans are not only living on Mars in the year 3000, but our descendents have built Martian cities and used advanced technology to transform Mars into an Earth-like environment.
Emily wonders when humans first began measuring time, and Zontar transports them back to central France during the last ice age, when prehistoric people first measured and recorded the cycles of the moon. The children speculate on how the Earth would be different (i.e., it would spin much faster) if it had no moon.
Sun clocks first came into existence in ancient Egypt, followed by similar versions in China and England. Our time travelers are brought next to Stonehenge to explore that unique structure located on the plains of England. Finally, Zontar introduces the children to our more recent timekeeping devices, including water clocks, candles, bells, the first mechanical clocks and the most accurate timekeepers of all – today's atomic clocks. A brief question-and-answer period follows the presentation.
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