BY BIANCA IUSO
When children are asked what they want to be when they grow up, most say doctor, professional athlete or even astronaut. People 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.” A new addition to the roster is “Astronomagic for Muggles,” a Harry Potter themed show. Each show will have a different focus and caters to different age groups, making them appropriate for any child.
“Space Extreme” takes the audience to the unknown in the universe. In this presentation, spectators go into black holes and experience what happens when debris and space objects are sucked up into them. The show also visits supernovae and views galaxies colliding.
“Shapes in the Sky” has storytelling with myths, legends and tales about the sky and star patterns.
The last show, “Tour of the Planets,” has the audience experience and view our own 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 October, February, March, April and May. General admission is $10.
“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 age.
Each show begins with a live simulation of the night sky. The shows are 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 different presentations each time.
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 this job and describes it as a dream job that he will miss when graduating in May.
The digital planetarium is run on the Digistar 4 system by Evans and Sutherland. This system is a multi-functioning, high-tech system that allows Fenwick and Phillips to operate the planetarium with ease. The last system was used by CCM since 1972 and was an optical and mechanical projector.
“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 aides 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 land on planets in the Milky Way and see them as they are viewed in outer space. The system also features a draw-in system where the operator can draw a star in three-dimensional views while helping the audience understand something and see a clearer path.
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.
“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.”
For the month of October, “Astronomagic for Muggles” is on Oct 24, from 3 to 5 p.m. “Space Extreme” is showing Oct 9 from 7 to 8 p.m. “Tour of the Planets” and “Shapes in the Sky” are running on Oct 10, with “Shapes in the Sky” at 3 p.m. and “Tour of the Panets” at 5 p.m. For the full planetarium schedule, visit ccm.edu/planetarium.