BY BIANCA IUSO
When children are asked what they want to be when they grow up, most say doctor, professional athlete or even astronaut. Perhaps they dream of suiting up, blasting off, and visiting outer space to see the Earth from a new perspective and stars in a new light.
County College of Morris’ Longo Planetarium invites students and spectators to view the sky through an astronaut’s eyes. The planetarium is holding three different shows a month for the duration of the spring semester. Chris Fenwick, the CCM astronomer, runs the show with his student aide, Ernie Phillips.
“Every show is different, dynamic and dramatic,” Fenwick said. “Every show will immerse you in the expanse of space as we look at a huge variety of things. It could be myths and legends about the sky, possibly traversing from planet to planet, maybe skirting dangerously close to the surface of a star, or you might end up flying through a black hole.”
The three presentations that are shown in the planetarium are “Shapes in the Sky,” “Tour of the Planets” and “Space Extreme.” Each show has a different focus and caters to a different age group, making at least one program appropriate for any child.
“Space Extreme,” starting Feb. 7 at 7 p.m., takes the audience to the unknown in the universe. In this presentation, spectators see into black holes and experience what happens when debris and space objects are sucked up into them. The audience also visits supernovae and views galaxies colliding.
“Shapes in the Sky” starts Feb. 8 at 1 p.m. and includes storytelling with myths, legends and tales about the sky and star patterns.
The last show, “Tour of the Planets,” begins Feb. 8 at 3 p.m. In this presentation, the audience experiences and views the solar system in an up-close and personal way.
“Sometimes we will visit all the planets; other times we may concentrate on moons, asteroids, comets, or even the sun,” Fenwick said.
Each show is presented three times a month with dates in February, March, April and May. General admission is $10, but seniors, students, faculty and staff, as well as children under 12, pay a reduced price of $5.
“Space Extreme” will be showing Feb. 7, March 14, April 11 and May 9 at 7 p.m. “Shapes in the Sky” and “Tour of the Planets” play Feb. 8, March 15, April 12 and May 10. “Shapes in the Sky” will begin at 1 p.m. on these dates and “Tour of the Planets” will start at 3 p.m.
“Shapes in the Sky,” where different star patterns are explored, is recommended for ages 4 and up. Fenwick said the “Shapes in the Sky” presentation is the most interactive.
“There are lots of opportunities for kids to respond to what is going on, and participate in the stories,” Fenwick explained.
“Tour of the Planets” is recommended for ages 6 and up.
“My favorite show that we do is a public show called “Space Extreme,” Phillips said. “Though I have done it several times, the learning material still captivates me. Plus, we demonstrate what it would be like going through a black hole during the show. It’s awesome.”
This show is recommended for ages 8 and up, but regardless, everyone is welcome at every show no matter what the age.
Each show begins with a live simulation of the night sky, followed by Fenwick’s presentation of the sky.
“Since the program is done live, I even change it up on the fly, during the show, as the interest of the audience may demand,” Fenwick said.
Spectators can go to the same show once a month and see a different presentation.
As a student aide and computer science major at CCM, Phillips helps throughout the show.
“During the show I operate the computer that displays the cool effects that you would see when coming to the planetarium,” Phillips said.
He enjoys the job, describing it as a dream job that he will miss when he graduates in May.
The digital planetarium is run on the Digistar 4 system by Evans and Sutherland. This is a multi-functioning, high-tech system that allows Fenwick and Phillips to operate the planetarium with relative ease. The last system used by CCM, an optical and mechanical projector, dates back to 1972.
“This system is a full-dome digital system, using three-dimensional rendering of known space projected on the dome using a pair of digital projectors,” Fenwick said.
Phillips aids Fenwick during the show.
“I help write some of the computer code, assure that the computer is running correctly, and seat the children,” Phillips said.
The system allows Fenwick to view planets in the Milky Way from the surface and see them as they are viewed in outer space. It also features a draw-in system where the operator can draw a star in 3-D while helping the audience understand something and see a clearer path.
When asked about the dif- ferences between each system, Fenwick said “There really is no comparison.” He explained the system makes live shows easier to operate and view. The shows are expected to sell out quickly. The Longo Planetarium strongly advises anyone who wants to see the shows to call the reservation desk and reserve a spot. The planetarium holds approximately 90 people, and the dome in the planetarium is 10 meters in diameter. You can call the Office of Campus Life at 973-328-5076 to get a spot at one of the exciting and interactive presentations at the Longo Planetarium.
“I hope to see some more students during these public shows,” Phillips said. “It’s only five dollars for a wicked awesome time under the stars.”