Tag Archives: Staerkel Planetarium

Catch the Harvest Moon Eclipse This Weekend

The skies should be great for viewing the “harvest Moon” that will pass into the shadow of the Earth, resulting in a total lunar eclipse, this Sunday evening (September 27).

If you want to view the eclipse more closely, stop by the William M. Staerkel Planetarium at Parkland College, beginning at 8 p.m. The CU Astronomical Society will have telescopes set up outside in the bus drop-off drive. Park in the M-1 lot and walk over.

Unlike their solar counterparts, lunar eclipses are very safe to observe. It is just like looking at a full Moon in the sky, but it will appear as if something is taking a bite out of the Moon! If skies are clear, anyone in the Midwest should be able to see the eclipse from their backyard.

The Moon will begin to enter the dark part of the Earth’s shadow at 8:07 p.m. The Moon will be completely inside the Earth’s shadow by 9:11 p.m. and will begin to emerge from the shadow by 10:23 p.m. The full Moon will appear back in the night sky by 11:27 p.m.

This full Moon will be closest to the autumn equinox, traditionally called the “harvest Moon,” with an eclipse midpoint occurring just 59 minutes after the Moon’s closest approach to the Earth, also called “perigee.” Some have called a full Moon near perigee a “supermoon.”

There are two things to look for while you’re watching this eclipse. The first is the curved shadow of the Earth. In ancient times, this was evidence that the Earth was, in fact, round and not flat. Second, after the eclipse is well underway, look for a reddish tint on the Moon. The red is from sunlight that bends through the Earth’s atmosphere. The blue is scattered out, which is why we have blue skies, leaving the red part of the spectrum to strike the Moon.

The next total lunar eclipse easily visible from central Illinois won’t be until January 2019, so I hope you get a chance to catch this one! (If the weather isn’t perfect, call the CUAS hotline at 217/351-2567 to see if the observing event at the planetarium is still occurring.)

Plutopalooza at the Planetarium

The New Horizons spacecraft, launched in January 2006, will fly by Pluto tomorrow morning, passing within 7,800 miles of the surface of Pluto and traveling in excess of 30,000 miles per hour. The spacecraft’s antenna is scheduled to be pointed back towards Earth, and New Horizons will “phone home” with the signal, expected to arrive at Earth near 8 p.m. CDT.

Stop by the Staerkel Planetarium Tuesday, July 14, any time from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. and help us commemorate the big event! All ages welcome! PLUS, we’ll have Pluto-related shows on Friday!

Plutopalooza Open House!
Tuesday, July 14 • 6-8:30 p.m.
The planetarium will project the NASA New Horizons press conference on the dome; the public is invited to attend this free, open-house-format viewing. Static displays in the planetarium lobby will depict Pluto’s size and distance from the Sun. Kids will be able to see if they can “discover” Pluto in the stars, to see how high they could jump on Pluto, and to take home New Horizons stickers, while supplies last. The planetarium will also display the locally-produced musical “Found and Lost: The Story of Pluto” in the lobby.

Friday, July 17 • 7 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Staerkel Planetarium’s regular Friday night show lineup will have a “Pluto twist” to it. At 7 p.m., “Prairie Skies” will show the audience the summer constellations and where Pluto is located in the sky. At 8 p.m., “New Horizons: Expedition to Pluto” will be shown on the dome. Both programs will display days-old high-resolution images from NASA’s New Horizons fly-by. Tickets will be sold at the door 30 minutes before each show and are $5 for adults and $4 for students, senior citizens, and children under 12. Those who purchase both shows receive the second show at half price!

[New Horizons image courtesy of NASA.]

Harps and Stars in the Dome on Valentine’s Day!

Are you maybe looking for something different to do for Valentine’s Day weekend? How about offering that someone special the stars and live music?

The Staerkel Planetarium is pleased to bring harpist Ann McLaughlin back to the dome on February 13 and 14 for shows at 8:30 p.m. All you have to pay is $5/person at the door.

Oddly enough, Ann’s first trip into the dome to play in the darkness was a “blind date.” Josh Birky, who works at Parkland in grants and contracts, called us and said, “Have you ever thought about a live concert with something different than a rock and roll band?” I asked what he had in mind, and the harp came up. Ann responded to my “to whom it may concern” email, and the rest is history.

Ann was phenomenal to work with and was very open to different ideas about what visuals to sync to her music. The big question, of course, was . . . .is anyone going to come see a live harp concert? That question was answered quickly, as the first of two shows sold out and we had a standing-room-only audience!

Next came  the challenge of making the harp work in the dome. I was surprised as to how loud the harp sounded in the dome, but we decided to mike it anyway. One microphone is floor-mounted while the other is on a stand where Ann has the option of addressing the crowd. Running the visuals aren’t trivial either, as you can’t really program anything. Although scripts can be preprogrammed into the planetarium’s digital system, they have to be started and stopped manually. Plus, we’ll get to use some visuals that may not fit into our regular programming. It’s challenging, but fun.

It’s amazing how often I get asked if we’re going to do Pink Floyd again! We haven’t done our musical light shows since spring 2014. The digital system is wonderful in the capabilities for flying the audience through the universe, but it won’t play the old programs. We can’t control the old projectors that allowed us to do those old shows. Having live acts like these are the closest we can come to the days of old.

So when we discovered that Valentine’s Day 2015 would occur on a weekend, I immediately got on the phone to Ann, and she was game for a return engagement. We look forward to hosting her AND her harp on the 13th and the 14th.

What’s the Rumbling in the Dome?

The William M. Staerkel Planetarium at Parkland College will open a brand new show on the Jan. 16/17 weekend titled Supervolcanoes!

Supervolcanoes will show at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday nights through February. Admission is $5 for adults and $4 for students, seniors and children under 12, with all tickets being sold at the door.

supervolcanoes

Imagine a scene 74,000 years ago, on the island of Sumatra: A volcanic eruption triggers the sudden and violent collapse of a vast plateau. Toba was the largest volcanic eruption in the last 25 million years. But Earth has seen far larger! About 250 million years ago, an eruption in what’s now Siberia lasted a million years and was probably responsible for the greatest episode of mass extinction in Earth’s history.

Narrated by famed English actor Benedict Cumberbatch, Supervolcanoes looks back at rare classes of eruptions that have marshaled the energy that churns beneath the surface of planet Earth. Is a supervolcano lurking beneath Yellowstone Park?

Thanks to Parkland’s Earth Science coordinator, the planetarium also has a display in the lobby containing different kinds of volcanic rock, including two types of rock from Hawaii and some ash from the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens.

For more information on planetarium programs, visit our website or call the show hotline at 217/351-2446.