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Antarctica comes to city

Look overhead. A ship steers forward, its prow crushing the ice and making way. Now crane your neck right and left. Emperor penguins waddle about to collect stones to form nests in every direction. A hairy muzzle looms into view. That’s Mother Seal taking wriggling, sliding Baby Seal for its first swim. They stop at a gap in the ice sheet and after a quick survey, plunge in. And you get a breathtaking view of life under 3km of ice, spread out across the 23m screen above you, an immersive experience that your 52cm TV screen at home can hardly compete with.

A large-format film premiered in the domed auditorium of India’s first and largest Space Theatre at Science City. It will be on for the next six months, with English, Hindi and Bengali narration alternately, for Rs 60 per head. For school groups, tickets cost half.

Titled Antarctica, the John Weiley-directed 38-minute IMAX film took two Antarctic summers to shoot and captures the stunning landscape as well as animals and scientists doing their thing. Antarctica has about 48 research stations of different countries and it is here that the gap in the ozone layer was discovered during an upper atmosphere study.

One gets to see the drilling of ice, of 4,000-year vintage, from 466ft below and the search for clues in the air bubbles locked in it to fathom changes in the air. The film uses old footage and photographs to tell the story of South Pole pioneers like Captain Robert Scott and Roald Amundsen. Travelling on foot or in wooden ships to these hostile terrains, many, like Scott, never came back.

Watching it with the audience was Sudipta Sengupta, one of the two Indian women to first set foot in the world’s highest and coldest continent. She was part of India’s third and ninth expeditions to Antarctica. “Once we passed rough weather in the Roaring Forties and the Furious Fifties, the sea became calm, with more ice and less water. The continent itself is an unending expanse of blue above and white below. Visibility is so clear that you can see things 15 km away. So it is difficult to gauge how far an object really is.”

It was so cold — between -5°C and -20°C — that food turned cold in the minutes it took to go from fire to the plate. “A colleague heated water for a bath. When he tried pouring it on himself, it had become ice. It was a tough but unique life,” summed up the gritty lady.

“We are running out of celluloid IMAX films. So we are raising funds to digitise the projection system,” said G.S. Rautela, director-general, National Council of Science Museums. Another viewing marvel, a 40m cylindrical projection screen, is likely to open by the year-end.”