Chris Fenwick, the planetarium astronomer at County College of Morris, harnessed the power of the universe Thursday, Oct. 10 when he made galaxies collide and revealed constellations such as Hercules, Medusa and the Big Dipper. Black holes appeared and streaked the sky with yellow lines and then turned pitch black.
The planetarium came alive through special lighting effects, moving screens and demonstrations of planetary motion as Fenwick offered detailed explanations and humorous commentary while CCM students reacted with delight and learned about the universe.
“I didn’t realize humanity’s understanding of space is so deep,” said Ryan Schneider, a communications major. “The fact that we know as much as we do when our ability to explore is so limited is really quite interesting to me.”
Our current understanding of our Earth and universe, Fenwick explained, is largely due to the Space Shuttle program and its satellites.
“Satellites help us predict where nasty weather is going to happen…we have satellites that are part of the GPS system,” he said. “Without the Space Shuttle, really, we couldn’t have built the International Space Station.”
Another benefit of space exploration is our expanded knowledge of the constellations.
“[The] little dipper [has a] small shape [and is] very hard to find, but it’s an important [constellation] because it has the North Star,” Fenwick added.
The students enjoyed Fenwick’s explanation of a star along with the special effects in the show.
“[It’s] a delicate balance of two forces. What makes a star a star is that it has so much gravity, there’s so much mass that the gravity near its center is crushing it together, slamming it together, creating a fusion reaction,” Fenwick said. “[It’s] a nuclear bomb just going off over time and that’s caused by the gravity holding it together.”
Many students craned their necks to focus on the planetarium ceiling. Julio Rivera was one of them. Rivera was clearly impressed by many of things he learned.
“One really cool thing that I did not know is that there is a supposed planet that is so big that it blocks out the Sun,” he said. “I think that is incredible, and I’m looking forward to seeing that in 2017.”
“I just took this class just as an elective, one astronomy class, because I thought it was interesting,” said John Suarez, an engineering science major. “Now I know next semester, I’m definitely going to be taking more astronomy classes. [I] might even switch my major.”
“I think that space is sort of the future,” Schneider said. “I think the future of humanity really depends on how much we can explore in space and colonize other planets and expand outwards, because eventually, populations are going to be a problem and the capacity of Earth is not going to be enough for us. It’s important that we continue to explore space and learn more about it.”