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Planetariums for Outreach (Am I nuts or what?)

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#1 Ron Walker

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Posted 30 July 2016 - 04:51 PM

My introduction to the night sky and astronomy in general was my first visit to the Adler Planetarium back in the 1950's.  Back in those days astronomy wasn't much fun.  Granted, you could make out the Sun for a few days out of the year, but what were these things called stars. (Yes I exaggerate but what's the fun in reminiscing if one can't exaggerate, just a little.)  What was most fascinating to me was not the thousands of stars (just plain lies and exaggerations [or so I thought at the time]) but the strange machine in the center of the room. That fascination turned obsession haunts me to this day.  Perhaps my obsession has taken me to extremes, but that's probably another topic.

 

What has this to do with outreach you may ask...perhaps it is the number of outreach star parties that I have attended where the host has so many spotlights on for safety that one needs a go-to scope to find anything and then hope it is bright enough to still be seen through the scope.  Perhaps it is the summer dust storm that storms in just after one sets up and then has just a few minutes to tear down.  Perhaps...well there are a lot of perhaps-es that I'm sure you are all familiar with.

 

So I thought, why not a planetarium to introduce the night sky, or perhaps a good introduction before a star party.  And I'm talking about a good old time planetarium that shows the night sky and not an Omnimax type presentation that is more movie then star show.  Perhaps it is my age limiting me to the technological advances in visual presentation (though to my eyes no one has beat the original Cinerama yet) but I still love a good old star show the best. 

 

Anyway, I'm wondering what others think, is this a topic worth pursuing?  Are there others out there that enjoy the projection of fake skies.  Basically, are planetariums of interest to anyone out there?


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#2 Augustus

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Posted 30 July 2016 - 05:02 PM

I went to the planetarium at the Griffith observatory and it was really disappointing, because it was one of those movie-style things.

 

I think that just bringing them to an actual dark place in good weather is far better and more important. I was on Block Island in late June and I was amazed how many stars you could see in every direction. Trees obscured most of the Milky Way though.


Edited by Augustus, 30 July 2016 - 05:03 PM.

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#3 Ron Walker

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Posted 30 July 2016 - 05:40 PM

Yes that is kind of my feeling.  Planetariums are kind of loosing site of what they do best in favor of more dynamic entertainment.  One cannot blame them as they need the "gate" to keep the doors open.  My problem is that once started, the movies take over, perhaps because they are easier to put up on the dome.  But then, my "sour grapes" will never make good wine so I will step back.

 

A planetarium sky will never replace a real night sky.  One problem is getting people out to see it.  For many a view of the night sky is an interesting way to spend an hour or two, but how many want to travel the distance required for a good dark sky site.  To those of us infested with the astronomy virus this is no problem at all but for beginner who says "this could  be interesting", will they be interested in taking the time and driving the miles in the dark of night for the payoff?  Is there something to pique the interest enough so that that trek would be worth it?  I believe there is and that is a good old fashioned planetarium program.  A way to remove the chaff from the wheat so to speak.


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#4 MarkGregory

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Posted 30 July 2016 - 07:33 PM

I recently attended a planeterium presentation because I was bored. Biggest waste of money ever. Boring presentation by a part time employee (Senior like myself) who put very little enthusiasm in the presentation. If I were a kid, and didn't know better, it would have been a turn off to astronomy and sky watching. Put children and inquisitive adults  under the stars and let them observe Saturn , Jupiter or the craters on the Moon through your eyepiece. That is what outreach is all about. At least that's my humble opinion. 


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#5 Ron Walker

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Posted 31 July 2016 - 01:35 PM

Bad presentation will destroy anything.  I've been to planetarium shows that were so full of statistics that I almost fell asleep.  I've been to movies that were so poorly directed and/or shot that the best script and/or actors could not save them.  If a group at a planetarium show becomes too big all interaction disappears which is a bad thing in my mind.  I've found that keeping the audience involved keeps them happy and a happy group learns something.  Also big audiences tend to require very generic presentations which can be very boring to those with any knowledge at all.

 

The thing about being a kid is that all is new and magical.  Being a leftover from the middle of the last century myself I often laugh at movies that at one time I thought fantastically great.  And yet, I have showed the younger set these same movies and that magic that worked for me when I was a kid is working for them now.

 

Yes, "put children and inquisitive adults  under the stars and let them observe" but would reproduced stars work as well, especially if the viewers had never seen the Milky Way or stars past the second magnitude because of light pollution?  There have been so many times that I've had the younger set look through the eyepiece and go "wow" and yet checking right after they left and find the object was no longer in view.

 

I base the effectiveness of any presentation I give, be it live or Memorex, (boy does that date me) by the number of questions afterwards or if they want another look down the tube or come back for another show.  No, a planetarium show is not perfect and will never replace a true dark sky site but I think it can help spark the interest of both young and old alike.


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#6 MeridianStarGazer

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Posted 31 July 2016 - 08:19 PM

All we need is a planetarium view of the sky that shows twice as many stars as can be seen at most dark sky sites and twice as bright, with no atmosphere. Let them see the milky way, andromeda galaxy,  all at 1x. Small DSO should be 5x as bright as real. Then make the whole sky rotate 360 degrees in 40 minutes. Do a show each hour, showing mostly the northern hemisphere but also the southern, and showing polaris at different locations. Have some with aura borialis, and also show zodiacal light and shooting stars. Tell people to look for familiar constellations. Those pointer stars can be 3x instead of 2x.

 

The big screen can be rented out to show movies too, but should have at least a few planetarium shows per day.

 

I had this idea too. The planetarium near me does not do what I mentioned. It is just a movie.


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#7 Ron Walker

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Posted 31 July 2016 - 10:00 PM

That works for me.  Not quite sure about twice as many stars as a good dark sky site as that no one will probably ever see, but I'll go for mag 6 skies for sure.  Milky Way for sure as well as Andromeda, the double cluster in Perseus, and throw in the Beehive as well.  All that can be seen from a good dark sky site.  Add in the ISS and a satellite or two when they will be visible in the coming days.

 

I suppose one could make fainter deep sky objects brighter but then it's like a Hubble table top book.  One is always disappointed when they get a real time look at the real thing.  There is nothing wrong with providing time exposure telescope images of various things after pointing out where they are in the sky but always stating the time required to generate the image.

 

Most new people would not stay up all night so the idea to get them interested in the night sky has to come within say 1.5 hours after sunset when the sky is as dark as it's going to get.  Talk about the Moon and planets and what they are going to do in the next month or so.  Simple things that they can see just going outside for a few minutes or so.  That will hook them or not.



#8 MeridianStarGazer

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Posted 31 July 2016 - 10:59 PM

Some shows can be brighter, others darker. I would want mag 7 skies. You can even do with and without the atmosphere. Some with a speaker, and others for meditation.

 

I was all ready to drive to see Sagittarius. But the smoke is to the south now. So that is a no go. Long drive, gas, finding camping, staying up late to view. Too bad a planetarium can't give people the same escape you get while camping. Out there, your problems of the world disappear.


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#9 jtsenghas

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Posted 02 August 2016 - 08:12 PM

I think planetarium shows have two distinct things going for them that serve well as stepping stones for real outreach activities.  They help people understand the apparent motion of the sky through their ability to speed up time through the nights and through the seasons, and they encourage city residents to pursue darker skies than they are accustomed to seeing. (Note the quote in my signature.  It is from an interview performed by Steven Colbert).


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#10 TX4812

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Posted 02 August 2016 - 11:30 PM

I remember going to the planetarium in Lincoln, Nebraska with my dad when I was a kid.  They had the sky set to dusk when we walked in, with the silhouettes of buildings, etc on the horizon.  Then over the next 5-10 minutes the 'sky' got darker and the stars started to appear.  When the program began  they explained the constellations, etc.  I remember them pointing out Orion and how to recognize it.  After the show we went outside and it was dark and I looked up and there was Orion!  I would not have recognized it if not for that planetarium show.  The presentation was not full of whiz bang special effects and videos like they have now, but it made a big impression on me.


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#11 Ron Walker

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Posted 03 August 2016 - 09:45 PM

Often I think it's more my age that make me think the old fashioned star show is the best but the more people I talk to and the more comments I read, I get the impression I'm not alone.  The old sky at night type shows tend to appreciated more then the whiz bang zoom off to Pluto type of movie presentations.  There is a lot to be said of just the night sky passing overhead with just some Brahms or Beethoven playing in the background.  Very relaxing without "Long drive, gas, finding camping, staying up late to view".

 

The quote: ""Wow! It looks JUST like the Hayden Planetarium! " -- A 9-year-old boy from the Bronx named Neil deGrasse Tyson at his first dark site in the mountains of Pennsylvania".  reminds me of my first visit to the Adler in Chicago, and I don't think we are alone.  I love the comment by TX4812, "The presentation was not full of whiz bang special effects and videos like they have now, but it made a big impression on me."  That is exactly the kind of show I like to give, starting with the Sun at noon, high in the sky in summer, low in winter, and in that few minutes as the Sun goes from noon to sunset I talk about the speed of light, the through the twilight's until we see the sky tonight with all the light pollution of a normal night sky.  All the time getting the viewers more and more dark adapted.  Point out a few of the things that can be seen and then, with the right music interlude (I like a small clip from The Lion King) show everyone the "true beauty of the night skies".

 

So I wonder, how many others feel that a simple old time planetarium show, "made a big impression on me".


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#12 jtsenghas

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Posted 04 August 2016 - 09:48 AM

I saw my first planetarium show at the Hayden Planetarium in Boston (not N.Y.) at about the age of nine. The year was 1970 and there was not nearly as much light pollution in Massachusetts as there is now, so from my very rural suburban backyard I could see 5th magnitude stars and 6th magnitude stars were less than an hour's drive away.  The quote in my signature makes me chuckle because I distinctly remember looking at the star field then and thinking "WOW!  It looks just like the sky in the big back field!" That planetarium had an excellent star field projector that did a great job of representing the range of magnitudes of stars, making the Summer Triangle easy for me to find later at home. 

 

It was a huge light bulb moment for me to comprehend at age nine, as I sat back in the soft chair (planetarium seats were MUCH bigger back then)  how our location on this planet and the location of the planet with respect to the sun were responsible for what was presented to us each night. 

 

The local planetarium to where I live now is at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. Last year they retired a similar star field projector with excellent Minolta optics in favor of a two- projector system.  This new arrangement has one digital projector at the each the northern and southern horizons, and these project the field with an overlap (not carefully aligned) on the plane through the east, west, and zenith. Gone are the crisp tight stars of the old system.  They are unfortunately now replaced with softer spots of light. Still, I'm glad every evening show there at least starts with a star talk. 

 

I'm aware that good digital setups can provide excellent skies in planetariums, however. The University of Toledo has one.  Their setup has a high resolution central projector that is amazing! I've seen one show there and almost laughed out loud as I saw a meteor streaking through the Pleiades during their star talk. 

 

I hope that most planetariums in the future will have at least brief star shows to inspire interest and comprehension in this hobby. It's great to see the spark of comprehension in a child's mind when suddenly things "click".


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#13 Ron Walker

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Posted 06 August 2016 - 04:16 PM

As some of you probably guessed, this is a direction I have gone.  Call me nuts or what but my project grew and grew and became much more then even I ever anticipated.  The planetarium has been in operation now for two years and by "word of mouth" my show this weekend will contain my 1,000 visitor.

 

both domes.jpg

 

The small dome to the left is my Explor-A-Dome and the planetarium is obviously the larger dome to the right.  Perspective makes it look bigger then it is in comparison to the observatory.  It is 30 feet in diameter.  My plan is to provide a live video feed into the planetarium from the observatory for special events. I did such a presentation for the Mercury transit with good turnout.

 

I'm not at all sure if anyone on these forums would find this at all interesting but, if so, I would be happy to go into as much detail as readers could tolerate.  Actually I'm not even sure where the posts would go if any of you wanted them.


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#14 TCW

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Posted 06 August 2016 - 05:52 PM

I went to the planetarium at the Griffith observatory and it was really disappointing, because it was one of those movie-style things.

 

I think that just bringing them to an actual dark place in good weather is far better and more important. I was on Block Island in late June and I was amazed how many stars you could see in every direction. Trees obscured most of the Milky Way though.

Griffith used to have terrific planetarium shows using the old Zeiss (I think) planetarium projector. No movies back when I was a kid, just good educational programs.


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#15 Rich_B

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Posted 08 August 2016 - 09:59 AM

As some of you probably guessed, this is a direction I have gone.  Call me nuts or what but my project grew and grew and became much more then even I ever anticipated.  The planetarium has been in operation now for two years and by "word of mouth" my show this weekend will contain my 1,000 visitor.

 

attachicon.gifboth domes.jpg

 

The small dome to the left is my Explor-A-Dome and the planetarium is obviously the larger dome to the right.  Perspective makes it look bigger then it is in comparison to the observatory.  It is 30 feet in diameter.  My plan is to provide a live video feed into the planetarium from the observatory for special events. I did such a presentation for the Mercury transit with good turnout.

 

I'm not at all sure if anyone on these forums would find this at all interesting but, if so, I would be happy to go into as much detail as readers could tolerate.  Actually I'm not even sure where the posts would go if any of you wanted them.

your planetarium is a great project . Do you have a website or could you please post more details and images ?


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#16 Ron Walker

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Posted 08 August 2016 - 01:33 PM

I would be more then happy to post "more details and images", I'm just not sure where the moderators would want me to put it.  It's not a topic that fits in with those listed.  Any moderator out there that could direct me on this?



#17 jtsenghas

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Posted 08 August 2016 - 06:21 PM

I would be more then happy to post "more details and images", I'm just not sure where the moderators would want me to put it.  It's not a topic that fits in with those listed.  Any moderator out there that could direct me on this?

What, we have no forum for "Outreach/ Observatories/Solar System Observing/ Electronically Assisted Astronomy"?  :lol:


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#18 Ron Walker

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Posted 08 August 2016 - 06:54 PM

I don't see the word "planetarium" which is the reason for my confusion and question.  It appears to be a subject never before broached on these pages.  I originally started this in "Outreach" as it was the only place I thought logically to bring it up.  I certainly wouldn't call it an "Observatory" certainly not by definition and "Solar System Observing" well...would fit better under observatory then anything planetarium.  When I hear "Electronically Assisted Astronomy" I personally think more about some kind of video camera capture through a scope then again any kind of planetarium.  Perhaps one could say that this particular subject touches on all those listed.  I could also say it would post as well in "Audiophiliacs" as there are certainly audio systems involved.  The problem is that this particular subject touches on so many different things, but then again, I do not claim to know all or where this kind of thread would best live, hence the question to moderators. :confused:



#19 bumm

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Posted 08 August 2016 - 07:52 PM

I remember going to the planetarium in Lincoln, Nebraska with my dad when I was a kid.  They had the sky set to dusk when we walked in, with the silhouettes of buildings, etc on the horizon.  Then over the next 5-10 minutes the 'sky' got darker and the stars started to appear.  When the program began  they explained the constellations, etc.  I remember them pointing out Orion and how to recognize it.  After the show we went outside and it was dark and I looked up and there was Orion!  I would not have recognized it if not for that planetarium show.  The presentation was not full of whiz bang special effects and videos like they have now, but it made a big impression on me.

WOW!  I too, treasure the memories of going to the planetarium in Lincoln!  I remember when they built the thing.  :)  I was going to point out how the shows most often started with a view from the city, and then they'd either go out into the country or back in time to darker skies.  There was very little in the way of special effects...  About as fancy as things got were when the operator would shoot a squirt gun around the room when some clouds blew in.  But the presentations were effective, they gave you something to go home and look for that night, and that's part of what sparked my interest in the night sky.  In fact, when I finally managed to learn the constellations well, after getting into the habit of taking late night walks, it was a 1957 planisphere from the Morrill Hall museum that I used to get my bearings. 

      MANY years later, I drove my kids 145 miles down to Lincoln to go to a planetarium show, and it was basically a magic school bus movie.  There was a good "movie" of flying over Mars, but I was somewhat perplexed at the complete lack of a pointer show, which basically used to be the whole thing.  My young son, about 6 or 7 at the time, told me on the way home that his favorite part was when they showed stars all over the ceiling.  That was a very brief moment when they spun the projector as the magic school bus spun out of control. :/  I was very disappointed.

                                                                                                  Marty


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#20 bumm

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Posted 08 August 2016 - 08:23 PM

BTW, FWIW, and all that, the November 1957 issue of Sky & Telescope had a one page write-up announcing that "The artificial-satellite age began on October 4, 1957, when a Russian test vehicle started to circle the earth 15 times a day."  In the same issue was an ad from Spitz Laboratories announcing that "The latest Spitz Model A-1 Planetarium has been shipped to University of Nebraska State Museum  Lincoln, Nebraska." :)

                                                                                          Marty


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#21 Ron Walker

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Posted 08 August 2016 - 08:29 PM

The more and more I ask the question the more often I get a response like Marty's.  At first I thought that I was perhaps somewhat "touched" for enjoying and holding on to the classic star show so much and just never learned to appreciate the new dynamic presentations of the digital age.  Like modern movies with cuts so fast and cameras so shaky that one cannot follow the story to the point that no one cares for the characters at all.  Sorry, I can't handle that either.  I can't take a "magic school bus" trip in real life and everyone including the younger set knows this thus (perhaps only in their subconscious) understand it is NOT real and just a movie and thus treat it as such.

 

There is something magic about seeing a really dark sky.  A classic planetarium show is an introduction to this magical world and it is something that can actually be seen "in the flesh" so to speak.  The decision is up to each individual viewer.  As Marty said," But the presentations were effective, they gave you something to go home and look for that night, and that's part of what sparked my interest in the night sky". 

 

I have not had a lot of the younger set come to my shows but their interest has been surprising to me.  Perhaps it is the fact that none of them have ever seen a classic show and only the 15 to 30 minute "caned" video presentations.  This old technology is NEW to them.  I'm thinking it still works as well as it did for me a half century (or more) ago.


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#22 Ron Walker

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Posted 08 August 2016 - 08:48 PM

Yes, there was a wealth of information on planetariums in S&T from the 50's, 60's, and 70;s.  I spent many a day dreaming over them (I have been stricken with "planetariumidous" for a long time).  I must admit that I have an auxiliary projector to represent the ISS as it comes overhead just after sunset or before sunrise.  It allows the asking of the question, "Why can't we see it go over at midnight?".  Also a fainter one to represent one of many satellites that can be seen if one looks carefully enough.  The great thing about live shows is that the audience can participate.  If they are shy, it doesn't matter as they are in the dark and no one knows who they are.  I can hide out behind the control console. (Pay no attention to the guy behind the curtain...er...control console.)


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#23 bumm

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Posted 08 August 2016 - 08:49 PM

I've lamented the passing of the pointer show many times, and it's often pointed out to me that the younger set is so technologically jaded that the simple view of a planetarium pointer show is lost on them.  They need the IMAX type spectacle to hold their attention.  I don't agree.  I've seen dumb, boring movies with spectacular special effects.  The planetarium show isn't an end in itself...  I still feel that a well presented, entertaining, pointer show, giving these kids something that they can actually GO OUT AND SEE IN THE REAL WORLD could be very effective.  True, light pollution is a bigger problem now, but this can be explained during the show, and if the parents bothered to bring them to the planetarium, they just might give them a ride out of town for a bit.

                                                 Marty


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#24 Ron Walker

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Posted 08 August 2016 - 08:54 PM

Marty, you are a man after my own heart!!! :bow:

 

There was a time that I thought I was alone in this thinking but you are more proof that I am not.


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#25 Ron Walker

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Posted 08 August 2016 - 09:01 PM

I must admit that while I am not a fan of the "OMNIMAX" planetarium show, I do enjoy it as a movie entertainment kind of thing.  But everything in its place.  Also I have to thank the new digital technology convincing planetariums to convert.  Without them literally junking the old technology there would have been no way I could have built what I built.


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