Sunday, October 31, 2010

"The United States Constitution" from VOA

Welcome to THE MAKING OF A NATION – American history in VOA Special English.

The United States became a nation in 1776. Less than a century later, in the 1860s, it was nearly torn apart. A civil war took place, the only one in the nation's history. States from the North and the South fought against each other. The conflict involved the right of the South to leave the Union and deal with issues -- especially the issue of slavery -- its own way.

This week in our series, Frank Oliver and Tony Riggs describe how the Constitution survived this very troubled time in American history.


America's Civil War lasted four years. Six hundred thousand men were killed or wounded. In the end, the slaves were freed, and the Union was saved.

Abraham Lincoln was president during the Civil War. He said the southern states did not have the right to leave the Union. Lincoln firmly believed that the Union of states was permanent under the Constitution. In fact, he noted, one of the reasons for establishing the Constitution was to form a more perfect Union. His main goal was to save what the Constitution had created.

One cannot truly understand the United States without understanding its Constitution. That political document describes America's system of government and guarantees the rights of all citizens. Its power is greater than any president, court or legislature.

In the coming weeks, we will tell the story of the United States Constitution. We will describe the drama of its birth in Philadelphia in 1787. And we will describe the national debate over its approval. Before we do, however, we want to tell how that document provides for change without changing the basic system of government.


If you ask Americans about their Constitution, they probably will talk about the Bill of Rights. These are the first ten changes, or amendments, to the Constitution. They contain the rights of all people in the United States. They have the most direct effect on people's lives.

Among other things, the Bill of Rights guarantees freedom of speech, religion, and the press. It also establishes rules to guarantee that a person suspected of a crime is treated fairly.

The Bill of Rights was not part of the document signed at the convention in Philadelphia in 1787. The delegates believed that political freedoms were basic human rights. So, some said it was not necessary to express such rights in a Constitution.

Most Americans, however, wanted their rights guaranteed in writing. That is why most states approved the new Constitution only on condition that a Bill of Rights would be added. This was done, and the amendments became law in 1791.

One early amendment involved the method of choosing a president and vice president. In America's first presidential elections, the man who received the most votes became president. The man who received the second highest number of votes became vice president. It became necessary to change the Constitution, however, after separate political parties developed. Then ballots had to show the names of each candidate for president and vice president.

There were no other amendments for sixty years. The next one was born in the blood of civil war. During the war, President Abraham Lincoln announced the Emancipation Proclamation. That document freed the slaves in the states that were rebelling against the Union. It was not until after Lincoln was murdered, however, that the states approved the Thirteenth Amendment to ban slavery everywhere in the country.

The Fourteenth Amendment, approved in 1868, said no state could limit the rights of any citizen. And the Fifteenth, approved two years later, said a person's right to vote could not be denied because of his race, color, or former condition of slavery.


By the 1890s, the federal government needed more money than it was receiving from taxes on imports. It wanted to establish a tax on earnings. It took twenty years to win approval for the Sixteenth Amendment. The amendment permits the government to collect income taxes.

Another amendment proposed in the early 1900s was designed to change the method of electing United States Senators. For more than one hundred years, senators were elected by the legislatures of their states. The Seventeenth Amendment, approved in 1913, gave the people the right to elect senators directly.

In 1919, the states approved an amendment to ban the production, transportation, and sale of alcohol. Alcohol was prohibited. It could not be produced or sold legally anywhere in the United States.

The amendment, however, did not stop the flow of alcohol. Criminal organizations found many ways to produce and sell it illegally. Finally, after thirteen years, Americans decided that Prohibition had failed. It had caused more problems than it had solved. So, in 1933, the states approved another constitutional amendment to end the ban on alcohol.

Other amendments in the twentieth century include one that gives women the right to vote. It became part of the Constitution in 1920.

Another amendment limits a president to two four-year terms in office. And the Twenty-sixth Amendment gives the right to vote to all persons who are at least 18 years old.

The Twenty-seventh Amendment has one of the strangest stories of any amendment to the United States Constitution. This amendment establishes a rule for increasing the pay of senators and representatives. It says there must be an election between the time Congress votes to increase its pay and the time the pay raise goes into effect.

The amendment was first proposed in 1789. Like all amendments, it needed to be approved by three-fourths of the states. This did not happen until 1992. So, one of the first amendments to be proposed was the last amendment to become law.


The twenty-seven amendments added to the Constitution have not changed the basic system of government in the United States. The government still has three separate and equal parts: the executive branch, the legislative branch, and the judicial branch. The three parts balance each other. No part is greater than another.

The first American states had no strong central government when they fought their war of independence from Britain in 1776. They cooperated under an agreement called the Articles of Confederation. The agreement provided for a Congress. But the Congress had few powers. Each state governed itself.

When the war ended, the states owed millions of dollars to their soldiers. They also owed money to European nations that had supported the Americans against Britain.

The new United States had no national money to pay the debts. There was an American dollar. But not everyone used it. And it did not have the same value everywhere.

The situation led to economic ruin for many people. They could not pay the money they owed. They lost their property. They were put in prison. Militant groups took action to help them. They interfered with tax collectors. They terrorized judges and burned court buildings.

The situation was especially bad in the northeast part of the country. In Massachusetts, a group led by a former soldier tried to seize guns and ammunition from the state military force.

Shay's Rebellion, as it was called, was stopped. But from north to south, Americans were increasingly worried and frightened. Would the violence continue? Would the situation get worse?

Many Americans distrusted the idea of a strong central government. After all, they had just fought a war to end British rule. Yet Americans of different ages, education, and social groups felt that something had to be done. If not, the new nation would fail before it had a chance to succeed.

These were the opinions and feelings that led, in time, to the writing of the United States Constitution. That will be our story in the coming weeks of THE MAKING OF A NATION.


Our program was written by Christine Johnson and read by Tony Riggs and Frank Oliver. Transcripts and MP3s of our programs are at Join us again next week for THE MAKING OF A NATION, an American history series in VOA Special English.


1. In 1860, the United States was nearly torn apart by __________ .

a. slavery
b. The Civil War
c. The Thirteenth Amendment
d. Shay's Rebellion

2. After the Revolutionary War, the new nation had many _______ .
a. debts
b. enemies
c. presidents
d. prisoners

3. An amendment passed in 1919 known as ___________ failed, and had to be repealed.
a. The Emancipation Proclamation
b. The Right to Freedom of Speech
c. Prohibition
d. The Right to Vote

4. An addition or change to The Constitution is called __________________ .
a. a bill
b. an amendment
c. a new law
d. a misfortune

5. The Bill of Rights are __________________ .
a. the last ten amendments
b. the first amendment
c. the first ten amendments
d. the anti-slavery amendments

6. The right to freedom of religion is guaranteed by ______________ .
a. the twentieth amendment
b. the Congress
c. The Bill of Rights
d. Emancipation Proclamation

7. The amendment that gives women the right to vote was approved in _________ .
a. 1992
b. 1787
c. 1933
d. 1920

8. All of the slaves were freed because of The ________ .
a. Constitution
b. Thirteenth Amendment
c. Bill of Rights
d. Emancipation Proclamation

9. Another name for this article could be _________________ .
a. "The Law of The Land"
b. "The Legacy of Abe Lincoln"
c. "Near Collapse of The U.S.A"
d. "The Bill of Rights"

10. This story is mainly about ________________ .
a. The Civil War
b. the importance of The Constitution
c. the first ten amendments
d. the fight against slavery

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"Angry Ghosts" from Edcon Publishing

Something you will read about: "poltergeist", a spirit or ghost that makes its presence known by tapping, slamming doors or making other noises which are unexplainable.

Do ghosts really exist - or are they products and extensions of the imagination?

Ginnie Camp, an intelligent and calm eleven year-old girl, was visiting her aunt and uncle in Scotland one autumn. On a dreary evening in late November she became involved in some very disturbing events. Ginnie was in bed, but not yet asleep, when a series of loud knocks echoed through her bedroom. The rest of the family heard them and rushed into the room to see what was happening. However, no one could determine the cause of the knocking. Ginnie's aunt telephoned the next door neighbors and the minister of the church.

The minister hurried over and while he waited on the porch for someone to let him into the house, he heard the mysterious knocking. Upstairs he found everyone listening fearfully to the strange sounds. They seemed to be coming from the head of Ginnie's bed. The minister searched carefully and disproved the idea that someone in the room was secretly causing the knocking.

Then, without warning, a linen chest, which weighed over fifty pounds, dislodged itself from its place in the corner, slowly rose two inches in the air and floated several feet forward. The minister put his hand on the floating chest and felt that it was vibrating gently. Quietly, it settled back down to the floor. To add to this hectic scene, the knockings turned into sawing and scraping sounds.

Events like these went on each night for a week in Ginnie's bedroom. Sometimes a pillow or the blanket dislodged itself from its usual place and moved around without anyone touching it. Two local doctors visited the room with a tape recorder and recorded the various disturbing sounds, but they, too, could not explain what caused them. But this wasn't the end of the hectic experience for Ginnie. One afternoon, after she had returned to school, the teacher happened to glance up from her desk and was shocked to see an empty desk right behind Ginnie rise up a few Inches and move out of place. The teacher inspected the desk with great care and found no strings, wires or ropes attached which could have caused it to move.

The following day, Ginnie was standing next to the teacher's desk getting help with an arithmetic problem, when one end of the desk lifted up and slowly spun halfway around, vibrating gently as it turned. By the end of another week, Ginnie's strange spiritual experiences stopped completely.

What sort of events was poor Ginnie going through? She experienced what is known as a Poltergeist, a German word which means noisy ghost. People have known about poltergeists for hundreds of years. Usually a poltergeist involves loud noises, floating objects, objects thrown hard enough to break on impact and sometimes objects exploding for no reason. Normally poltergeists don't last very long, a few days or at the most a few weeks. Many times they center around persons, usually young, from the ages of nine to thirty.

Poltergeists have the reputation of being humorous, spiritual beings similar to elves, goblins and fairies. As in Ginnie's case, they are mostly loud and annoying. In some cases, however, they aren't a bit funny, but are "angry" and destructive.

For instance, in a German city, the owner of a china shop hired a young man to work for him. Very shortly after, cups, saucers, and dishes began mysteriously shattering while still on the shelves. Many hundreds of dollars worth of china broke before one investigator figured that a poltergeist was related to the young worker. When the young man changed jobs, the dishes on the shelves stopped breaking. Had the young man broken them while no one was watching? The investigator disproved this by keeping a close watch on the youth all the time.

There was also the case of Maryann, a young girl of nineteen, who worked in a lawyer's office but didn't like her job at all. As if this weren't enough to upset her, her boyfriend broke off their engagement for a very odd reason. Eight times in a row they had gone on dates to the bowling alley and each time they hadn't bowled because Maryann's presence fouled up the automatic pinsetters so much that they wouldn't operate. Whenever Maryann left the alley, the pinsetters worked fine.

After the broken engagement, Maryann's apparent impact on electricity started to affect the lights in the lawyer's office. They shorted out or blinked on and off without any apparent reason. When the repairmen came, they couldn't understand why there was such a tremendous load on the wires. They installed an extra generator in the office building but even that didn't solve the problem. At the same time,the telephones began registering calls that no one had ever made.

A professor from a German university came to investigate and he brought a TV camera and recorder. He was able to videotape a heavy painting on the wall which kept turning back and forth. Just as at the bowling alley, everything returned to normal whenever Maryann wasn't in the office.

In other incidents where poltergeists were involved, houses burst into flames or started shooting out jets of water, and the repairmen couldn't find anything wrong with the electric wires or the water pipes.

For centuries, interested investigators of spiritual events have tried to explain what causes these poltergeists. Of course, different investigators have arrived at different conclusions.
There are some knowledgeable investigators who do not believe in any such things as ghosts, spirits or poltergeists. They claim that all such things are frauds or magical tricks performed by the persons involved. It is contrary to common logic, they say, for spirits without bodies to pick up objects and throw them around or to create any kind of noise.

Other investigators, who have personally witnessed poltergeists and have seen floating objects and heard the noises, claim that they do indeed exist. Some of the poltergeists, they admit, could be caused by fraud or tricks but not all of them. These investigators do not agree among themselves on what causes poltergeists. Some of these believers claim that the poltergeists are caused by dead spirits. These spirits are angry because they are trapped here on the earth for some reason and they show their anger by creating noises, throwing things and even interfering with electricity. These believers also state that the angry spirits can often be stopped by ministers performing certain religious ceremonies.

The majority of the believing investigators argue that the idea that spirits cause poltergeists was disproved long ago. This group feels that the answer lies in the human mind itself. Even with all the great things that modern science has achieved, it has yet to understand the full force of the human mind. Could some minds have an impact on things they come in contact with? These investigators think that some angry or upset people, without realizing it, might be able to interfere with electricity or move objects. Exactly how they do this, no one is sure. For now, poltergeists are mysteries without final solutions. Investigators in areas of spiritual phenomena are dealing objectively with the new discoveries, hoping someday to solve the mystery of poltergeists and put them to rest forever.

Comprehension Check

1. The unusual events occurred in Ginnie's ________
a. bedroom.
b. living room.
c. backyard.
d. playroom.

2. Ginnie's aunt called _______
a. the police and fire departments.
b. the neighbors and the minister.
c. the police and the neighbors.
d. her lawyer and the neighbors.

3. According to this selection, Ginnie _______
a. was a strange person.
b. believed in ghosts.
c. liked mysterious things.
d. was a victim of unexplainable events.

4. The second puzzling thing to happen to Ginnie was that _______
a. she heard mysterious noises.
b. a desk spun around.
c. a linen chest dislodged itself.
d. pillows moved by themselves.

5. The author's purpose for writing this story was to _______
a. show us that some people are truly strange.
b. add a vocabulary word to our knowledge.
c. tell about several unusual occurrences.
d. prove ghosts really do exist in our world.

6. According to the author, poltergeists ________
a. are generally friendly, although unusual.
b. are helpful to people and our society.
c. are dangerous and vicious.
d. may center around ordinary people.

7. Maryann's boyfriend broke their engagement because ______
a. she wanted to become a lawyer.
b. she tried to frighten him.
c. strange things happened when she was around.
d. Maryann was a better bowler.

8. When people with poltergeists leave a room, _______
a. things turn sideways.
b. things go back to normal.
c. strange noises occur.
d. things break down.

9. Another name for this selection could be _______
a. "The History of Ghosts."
b. "Poltergeists Around Us."
c. "Interesting Facts About Germany."
d. "Why Do Poltergeists Annoy People?"

10. This selection is mainly about _____
a. searching for new ideas.
b. understanding facts.
c. puzzling events.
d. efforts of investigators.

Poltergeist activity recorded on camera:

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Nelly Bly, Investigative Reporter 100 Years Ago

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: I'm Shirley Griffith.

RAY FREEMAN: And I'm Ray Freeman with the Special English program, PEOPLE IN AMERICA. Every week we tell about a person important in the history of the United States. Today, we tell about a reporter of more than one hundred years ago.


SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: The year was eighteen eighty-seven. The place was New York City. A young woman, Elizabeth Cochrane, wanted a job at a large newspaper. The editor agreed, if she would investigate a hospital for people who were mentally sick and then write about it.

Elizabeth Cochrane decided to become a patient in the hospital herself. She used the name Nellie Brown so no one would discover her or her purpose. Newspaper officials said they would get her released after a while.

To prepare, Nellie put on old clothes and stopped washing. She went to a temporary home for women. She acted as if she had severe mental problems. She cried and screamed and stayed awake all night. The police were called. She was examined by doctors. Most said she was insane.

RAY FREEMAN: Nellie Brown was taken to the mental hospital. It was dirty. Waste material was left outside the eating room. Bugs ran across the tables. The food was terrible: hard bread and gray-colored meat.

Nurses bathed the patients in cold water and gave them only a thin piece of cloth to wear to bed.

During the day, the patients did nothing but sit quietly. They had to talk in quiet voices. Yet, Nellie got to know some of them. Some were women whose families had put them in the hospital because they had been too sick to work. Some were women who had appeared insane because they were sick with fever. Now they were well, but they could not get out.

Nellie recognized that the doctors and nurses had no interest in the patients' mental health. They were paid to keep the patients in a kind of jail. Nellie stayed in the hospital for ten days. Then a lawyer from the newspaper got her released.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Five days later, the story of Elizabeth Cochrane's experience in the hospital appeared in the New York World newspaper. Readers were shocked. They wrote to officials of the city and the hospital protesting the conditions and patient treatment. An investigation led to changes at the hospital.

Elizabeth Cochrane had made a difference in the lives of the people there. She made a difference in her own life too. She got her job at the New York World. And she wrote a book about her experience at the hospital. She did not write it as Nellie Brown, however, or as Elizabeth Cochrane. She wrote it under the name that always appeared on her newspaper stories: Nellie Bly.

RAY FREEMAN: The child who would grow up to become Nellie Bly was born during the Civil War, in eighteen sixty-four, in western Pennsylvania.

Her family called her Pink. Her father was a judge. He died when she was six years old. Her mother married again. But her new husband drank too much alcohol and beat her. She got a divorce in eighteen seventy-nine, when Pink was fifteen years old. Pink decided to learn to support herself so she would never need a man.

Pink, her mother, brothers and sisters moved to a town near the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Pink worked at different jobs but could not find a good one.

One day, she read something in the Pittsburgh Dispatch newspaper. The editor of the paper, Erasmus Wilson, wrote that it was wrong for women to get jobs. He said men should have them. Pink wrote the newspaper to disagree. She said she had been looking for a good job for about four years, as she had no father or husband to support her. She signed it "Orphan Girl".

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: The editors of the dispatch liked her letter. They put a note in the paper asking "Orphan Girl" to visit. Pink did. Mister Wilson offered her a job.

He said she could not sign her stories with her real name, because no woman writer did that. He asked news writers for suggestions. One was Nellie Bly, the name of a girl in a popular song. So Pink became Nellie Bly.

For nine months, she wrote stories of interest to women. Then she left the newspaper because she was not permitted to write what she wanted. She went to Mexico to find excitement. She stayed there six months, sending stories to the Dispatch to be published. Soon after she returned to the Pittsburgh Dispatch, she decided to look for another job. Nellie Bly left for New York City and began her job at the New York World.

RAY FREEMAN: As a reporter for the New York World, Nellie Bly investigated and wrote about illegal activities in the city. For one story, she acted as if she was a mother willing to sell her baby. For another, she pretended to be a woman who cleaned houses so she could report about illegal activities in employment agencies.

Today, a newspaper reporter usually does not pretend to be someone else to get information for a story. Most newspapers ban such acts. But in Nellie Bly's day, reporters used any method to get information, especially if they were trying to discover people guilty of doing something wrong.

Nellie Bly's success at this led newspapers to employ more women. But she was the most popular of the women writers. History experts say Nellie Bly was special because she included her own ideas and feelings in everything she wrote. They say her own voice seemed to speak on the page.

Critics said Nellie Bly was an example of what a reporter can do, even today.Critics said Nellie Bly was an example of what a reporter can do, even today.

Nellie Bly's stories always provided detailed descriptions. And her stories always tried to improve society. Critics said Nellie Bly was an example of what a reporter can do, even today. She saw every situation as a chance to make a real difference in other people's lives as well as her own.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Nellie Bly may be best remembered in history for a trip she took.

In the eighteen seventies, French writer Jules Verne wrote the book “Around the World in Eighty Days.” It told of a man's attempt to travel all around the world. He succeeded. In real life, no one had tried. By eighteen eighty-eight, a number of reporters wanted to do it. Nellie Bly told her editors she would go even if they did not help her. But they did.

RAY FREEMAN: Nellie Bly left New York for France on November fourteenth, eighteen eighty-nine. She met Jules Verne at his home in France. She told him about her plans to travel alone by train and ship around the world.

From France she went to Italy and Egypt, through South Asia to Singapore and Japan, then to San Francisco and back to New York. Nellie Bly's trip created more interest in Jules Verne's book. Before the trip was over, “Around the World in Eighty Days” was published again. And a theater in Paris had plans to produce a stage play of the book.

SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: Back home in New York, the World was publishing the stories Bly wrote while travelling. On days when the mail brought no story from her, the editors still found something to write about it. They published new songs written about Bly and new games based on her trip. The newspaper announced a competition to guess how long her trip would take. The prize was a free trip to Europe. By December second, about one hundred thousand readers had sent in their estimates.

Nellie Bly arrived back where she started on January twenty-fifth, eighteen ninety. It had taken her seventy-six days, six hours, eleven minutes and fourteen seconds. She was twenty-five years old. And she was famous around the world.

RAY FREEMAN: Elizabeth Cochrane died in New York in nineteen twenty-two. She was fifty-eight years old. In the years since her famous trip, she had married, and headed a business. She also had helped poor and homeless children. And she had continued to write all her life for newspapers and magazines as Nellie Bly.

One newspaper official wrote this about her after her death:

“Nellie Bly was the best reporter in America. More important is the work of which the world knew nothing. She died leaving little money. What she had was promised to take care of children without homes, for whom she wished to provide. Her life was useful. She takes with her from this Earth all that she cared about -- an honorable name, the respect and affection of her fellow workers, the memory of good fights well fought and many good deeds never to be forgotten. Happy the man or woman that can leave as good a record.”


SHIRLEY GRIFFITH: This VOA Special English program, PEOPLE IN AMERICA, was written by Nancy Steinbach. Your narrators were Shirley Griffith and Ray Freeman.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

"A Planetarium is a Theater" from Voice of America.

STEVE EMBER: I’m Steve Ember.

BARBARA KLEIN: And I’m Barbara Klein with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English. A planetarium is a theater with a rounded ceiling onto which images of the stars and planets are projected. Planetariums give educational shows about astronomy and what you can see in the night sky. Today, we tell about the past, present, and future of planetariums. And, we visit the Albert Einstein Planetarium at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.


STEVE EMBER: Since ancient times, humans have worked on ways to understand and represent the movement of the stars and planets. Experts credit the Greek astronomer Archimedes with developing the earliest known device to show the daily movement of the planets. He lived more than two thousand years ago. These mechanical devices that show the relative placement and movement of the planets and moons are sometimes called orreries. Over the centuries, scientific thinkers worked to develop these devices and improve their accuracy and complexity.

The words “orrery” and “planetarium” were once used interchangeably. Today, the word “planetarium” generally means a theater inside a dome.

BARBARA KLEIN: The earliest planetarium that is still working today is in the Netherlands, although the device is actually an orrery. It was built by a man named Eise Eisinga starting in seventeen seventy-four. It took him seven years to build this moving device inside a room in his house. All the planets move at the same speed as the real planets in our solar system. So, it takes one year for Earth to move around the sun and about twenty-nine years for Saturn to do so. Eisinga made his device out of wood, metal nails, a clock and nine weights.

Other versions of early planetariums were large globes. People could sit inside them. Holes were cut into the walls of these globes to represent stars.

STEVE EMBER: A group of German engineers and scientists helped develop the modern planetarium between nineteen ten and nineteen thirty. The creators of the Deutsches Museum of science and technology in Munich wanted to build a planetarium. So, they asked the Carl Zeiss company in Germany to help with this plan. This company was known for making scientific equipment such as microscopes.

It took engineers at Zeiss several years to invent a new planetarium technology. The complex mechanical device they made projected light through “star plates” of film that contained images of thousands of stars. Public viewings of the first Zeiss planetarium projector began in nineteen twenty-three.

BARBARA KLEIN: Soon, other cities in Europe and later in the United States began ordering planetarium devices from Zeiss. An American business leader named Max Adler learned about these planetariums and traveled to Germany to see one for himself.

He was so amazed with the Zeiss device that he donated the money for a planetarium to be built in his native Chicago, Illinois.

The Adler Planetarium was the first modern planetarium in the United States. It opened its doors to the public in nineteen thirty. Planetariums soon opened in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Los Angeles, California and New York City.

STEVE EMBER: Planetarium technology continues to evolve and improve to this day. But what if you live far away from a city with a planetarium?

Dan Neafus helps supervise the Gates Planetarium at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science in Colorado. He says new technologies are helping to connect planetariums with viewers in other areas. There are relatively few digital planetariums around the world. But this technology could bring space education and the experience of a planetarium show to more people through the use of a computer and Internet connection.


BARBARA KLEIN: The Loch Ness Production company in Colorado makes shows, images and music for the planetarium community. The company also gathers facts about planetariums around the world. It says there are over one thousand five hundred planetariums in the United States. Many kinds of organizations have planetariums. They include museums, science centers, universities, schools and even astronomy clubs. Some planetariums have domes that measure over twenty meters, while others are much smaller.

STEVE EMBER: Some planetariums use film projections. More technologically advanced planetariums use digital systems controlled by computers. Digital technologies offer planetariums many choices. These theaters can show movies about space. Or, these planetariums can serve as classrooms where live interactive presentations take place. For example, astronomers can guide viewers on a trip around the universe using image databases with real information about the placement of stars and planets.

BARBARA KLEIN: The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. has both a digital system and a projector system made by the Carl Zeiss company.

This Zeiss Model VI was a gift to the museum from West Germany in honor of the United States’ two hundred year anniversary. Last week, we attended a live show called “The Stars Tonight.” Astronomer Bill Dedmond showed visitors the night sky as the season changes from summer to fall.

BILL DEDMOND: “See, that’s how night sky is supposed to look. You can see thousands of stars when you are away from the city light pollution. You can even see this bright band of light here all the way across the sky. What is that bright band of light?”

KIDS: “The Milky Way!”

BILL DEDMOND: “OK, Excellent!”

STEVE EMBER: Bill Dedmond talked about the groups of stars or constellations in the night sky. He pointed out an important constellation, the Big Dipper. If you can find this group of stars, you can easily find the North Star, or Polaris. Mr. Dedmond also gave viewers a tour of the planets.

BILL DEDMOND: “Our galaxy contains a couple hundred billion stars and we know there are about one hundred twenty-five billion other galaxies. Just incredible how many stars there are.”

BARBARA KLEIN: Speaking of stars, one of the Air and Space Museum’s planetarium shows is called “Journey to the Stars.” The movie is presented by actress Whoopi Goldberg. It tells about the life of a star using our sun as an example.

WHOOPI GOLDBERG: “The first stars changed everything, combining hydrogen and helium into new elements such as oxygen and carbon. Then supernovas blasted these elements into space, supplying ingredients for stars and planets to come. And though it may sound incredible, your body actually contains about a teaspoon’s worth of this stuff formed thirteen billion years ago by the very first stars.”

STEVE EMBER: The movie describes the many stages in the life of a star. Some stars known as super giants are about a thousand times bigger than our sun.

The movie “Journey to the Stars” is very helpful not only because it tells interesting facts about stars and space. The movie helps viewers get a better idea of the extraordinary size and volume of space and the huge number of stars within it. This sense of size is hard to understand by just reading a book. The planetarium makes it feel as if you are observing, moving through and exploring space.

BARBARA KLEIN: Another show at the Smithsonian’s planetarium is called “Black Holes: The Other Side of Infinity.” Black Holes are not actually holes. They are extremely massive concentrations of matter. The actor Liam Neeson narrates the movie.

LIAM NEESON: “How do you find something that hides in the dark? You have to look for its tell-tale signs. Swift’s instruments are designed to record bursts of high energy radiation. Gamma rays don’t penetrate Earth’s atmosphere, but out here in space, Swift’s view of them is front row center. They erupt when a black hole is born. That happens when a large star dies in a blaze of glory called a supernova.”

STEVE EMBER: It takes a lot of work to produce a good planetarium movie. Experts at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science made the “Black Holes” movie. They worked with movie producers, computer experts, astronomers, astrophysicists and other professionals. Their film is scientifically correct and also a lot of fun to watch. Many images in the movie are based on complex mathematical calculations about space gathered by scientists.


BARBARA KLEIN: Next week, the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hawaii will host a six-day ‘Imiloa Fulldome Film Festival. Museum and planetarium professionals from around the world will be able to watch some of the latest movies available for digital planetarium theaters.

The ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center is part of the University of Hawaii at Hilo. The center’s planetarium has the world’s first three-dimensional planetarium system. Viewers wear special glasses to experience this effect. The Astronomy Center is an example of how technologies will continue to change and improve experiencing the night sky in planetariums of the future.

STEVE EMBER: This program was written and produced by Dana Demange. I’m Steve Ember.

BARBARA KLEIN: And I’m Barbara Klein. You can comment on this program at Join us again next week for EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.


1. The ___________________ was the first modern planetarium in the United States.
a: Zeiss Planetarium
b: Adler Planetarium
c: Eise Eisinga Orrery
d: The Air and Space Museum's Planetarium

2. A "constellation" is a ______________________ .
a: film plate used to project stars on ceilings of planetariums
b: group of stars
c: a globe inside which a person can sit to view a duplicate of the night sky
d: the audience seated inside a planetarium

3. More advanced planetariums today use ___________________ .
a: film projections
b: domes filled with small holes to represent stars
c: digital technology
d: much larger domes

4. Humans have been interested in understanding the movement of stars and planets since __________________________ .
a: ancient times
b: the invention of the telescope
c: the first observatory was built
d: the voyage of Christopher Colombus

5. When a star dies, it first explodes and blasts matter out into space. That explosion is called a "_____________."
a: black hole
b: constellation
c: supernova
d: Super Giants

6. A galaxy is ____________________________ .
a: a collection of constellations
b: a huge group of stars revolving around a center
c: a type of digital planetarium
d: a group of astronomers who gather to discuss new advances

7. From the time a star is born, it _______________________ .
a: stays pretty much the same
b: stays the same until it explodes
c: gradually expands in size
d: goes through many changes

8. It takes the earth one year to revolve around the sun, but it takes Saturn ________________ years to do so.
a: two hundred
b: fifteen
c: twenty-nine
d: five

9. ________________ not included in the list of elements stars use and form.
a: There is no element
b: helium is
c: carbon is
d: oxygen is

10. Gamma Rays _______________________________ .
a: are clearly visible with a telescope
b: regularly penetrate the earth's atmosphere
c: erupt when a black hole is born
d: allow scientist to see further into space

11. The Big Dipper is a _______________________________ .
a: constellation
b: galaxy
c: planet
d: element

The science of "Journey to the Stars" from Youtube

Read about black holes, here.