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Official Information Page for "The Polar Rink"










Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and.. hey, where's Pluto?! [click to enlarge]


Jupiter [click to enlarge].


Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars -- relative size if Hayden Sphere is the Sun [click to enlarge].


Tyranasaurus Rex -- 'Tyranasaurus' means 'Tyrant' [click to enlarge].


Earthworm winds around a rock way underground [click to enlarge].


Earthworm tangles itself up way underground, and a toad visits a mole's tunnel [click to enlarge].

Skating the Thin, Plastic Ice of Modern Life

Exploring "The Polar Rink", the Hayden Planetarium,
and NYC's Museum of Natural History

By Lou V

New York, NY; November 30, 2008 – NYC’s Hayden Planetarium and Museum Natural of History feature a new ice skating rink, on the roof-sized terrace of the building facing the huge glass side of the Hayden Planetarium. Purple, blue, and pink lights shine up from the area, and holiday lights festoon the trees and bushes surrounding the rink, making it all look quite spectacular at night.

You can skate around the ice, circling a large, illuminated polar bear statue, in the shadow of the huge Hayden sphere with replicas of Jupiter and Saturn and the rest of the Solar System, to holiday music playing from the speakers. The cold, 30-degree Thanksgiving-weekend air lent perfect holiday feel to my skate around the rink with family on a Friday night, November 28, 2008. There was only one drawback – the ice rink wasn’t made of ice – it was all plastic!   

The Polar Rink at NYC's Hayden Planetarium, with the Hayden Sphere looming above the ice in the rear, behind the glass wall of the Hayden Planetarium. The 'ice' is made of plastic.

What a downer. It seemed odd that everyone on the ice seemed to be a bad skater as we approached the rink; the whole lot of them were progressing along slowly as if it were each person’s first time on ice.

We had advanced warning of the plastic ice – we had stopped into a hotel across the street from the Hayden Planetarium so my 14-year-old daughter could use the bathroom. It was late, around 8:30pm, and the Planetarium and museum were closed; we were simply taking a long night’s stroll and the festive purple and pink lights caused me to ask the doorman what goes on over there. He told us that the rink was brand new, had just opened a week earlier, and featured plastic ice! I’ve since learned it has a name – the Polar Rink; and it’s being touted as a ‘green’, energy-efficient ice skating rink – no need to burn the electricity to freeze the ice!

I’ve ice skated dozens of times before, and although it usually takes me a few laps around the ice to get my skating legs, skating on plastic is a whole different recreation. The first thing that you notice, echoed by my 14-year-old who is a pretty good skater, is that your skates slide perpendicularly sideways out from under you. So as you push forward on either skate in a natural skating motion, you are trying to control each skate’s tendency to slip sideways out. This made for very slow, ‘tepid’-acious skating. There was one young 9-or-10-year-old kid skating pretty quickly from here to there, and the skate guards were all expert at skating on the plastic, so it is possible to get the hang of the surface, but even them I didn’t see circling the ice rink – it was more of a point-to-point skate. And it didn’t seem worth the effort – the ice wasn’t even cold, there wasn’t any cold air emanating from the faux ice, which is something that you realize you miss if it isn’t there. You can even see the joins where the plastic pieces come together, not the most inspiring visual. Without being able to get up to any speed at all, the whole thing became laborious, despite the incredible surroundings. Bruce Springsteen’s “The Fuse” from The Rising cd came on – a great song to skate to, by the way – but it was impossible even with that spur to get any speed at all going. 

"The Polar Rink" Prognosis

If the museum replaces the plastic with real ice, they will have the second best ice skating rink in NYC, behind Rockefeller Center, because of the visuals of the Planetarium’s Hayden Sphere and Solar System jutting above the ICE. As far as saving electricity goes – shut off some of the lights, and figure out more cost-effective ways to freeze water; plastic just doesn’t cut it. Or – give everyone in-line skates and make the whole thing an outdoor roller rink, and cut the pretense that you are offering an outdoor ice skating rink.

The Hayden Planetarium

We took in the Planetarium itself the next morning. It had been 10-12 years since I’d been to the Planetarium, and now I think I’m good for another 10-12 years or so. I’m a big fan of the Planetarium, and of space, but not much seemed changed as far as Planetarium exhibits since I’d been there last. There’s still the Earth, and the Sun, and Jupiter and Saturn, and the Milky Way and Rigel. Youtube has stolen a lot of thunder from planetariums. There are so many incredible videos of space available on youtube these days, staggering juxtapositions of our Earth to the Sun to nearby stars to bigger stars to the biggest stars like Rigel; videos of Apollo launches; astronauts in space; space shuttle flights, and so forth. I love the Hayden Planetarium’s huge physical diahramas of Saturn and Jupiter and the other planets fixed around the Hayden sphere (representing the Sun with regards to them). It is what I came for, really. All the planets were there except Pluto, sadly. It was also great fun touching meteorites and seeing the moon rocks and the model of a lunar rover – things you can’t do on youtube – but the old bang just wasn’t there.


The Hayden Sphere serves multiple roles -- as a comparision sphere to models exhibited around its circumference (in the case above, it is the sun to the planets Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, and Uranus); it also serves as the outer shell to the Planetarium's amphitheatre.

If the Planetarium is something you visit every 10-12 years, then the Museum of Natural History you could visit every 15 to 20 years. This seems like a lot of years between visits, but the last time I was at the museum was in the 1970’s and none of the exhibits seemed different to me. The dinosaurs are still there; they haven’t changed, although maybe the layout of their exhibits has. And the American Indians, and the stuffed, dead, birds, and the fish, and the big life-sized whale at the centerpiece of the Oceans wing. It is absolutely amazing how much larger a whale is than a shark – that’s one thing I took away from this visit that a computer screen can’t drive home; sharks and whales aren’t really in the same category of big fish – it’s like comparing a car to a 10-story building.

I did really enjoy the exhibit wing on the Earth itself. There were a set of exhibits that showed what goes on under the ground – how earthworms move about, and gophers, and chipmunk nests, moles, and wasp nests. And an exhibit in the Indian wing detailed how the Indians built their canoos out of birch trees, something that had been perplexing me since I was a child, and my mom told me that’s what they did. So maybe I did enjoy my time at the museum after all. And we only saw the half of it.

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A chipmunk sleeps in its nest, five feet underground [click to enlarge].