Planetarium Will Take Public on Journeys Through the Cosmos
You don’t have to spend years training to be an astronaut, or even pay a million dollars as a space tourist, to tour the cosmos. Now members of the Yale community, New Haven school groups and the general public can by whisked off to space without even leaving their seats at Yale’s new planetarium.
Part of the Leitner Family Observatory and Planetarium - which also houses two telescopes and a lecture hall that was completed in 2006 - the $1.4 million planetarium officially opened at the end of January.
Public shows are offered every Tuesday night for up to 50 viewers, along with observing when the weather permits. The only high-definition digital theater planetarium in the state of Connecticut, its 30-foot dome can show viewers what the current night sky looks like, while its 3D digital projector can display planets, stars and galaxies.
“You can fly off the Earth and see what the seasons look like on Mars, or fly off to other stars, or the center of the galaxy,” says Michael Faison, a researcher in Yale’s Department of Astronomy and director of the Leitner Family Observatory and Planetarium.
The public will also be treated to a sneak peek of the actual scientific research taking place in the astronomy department. Faculty, postdoctoral fellows and graduate students will all help create content for shows based on their own research.
In addition to the weekly public shows, the planetarium will also be used to teach Yale astronomy undergraduates about the motion of the sun, moon and planets. “So many concepts are just so much easier to explain in a meaningful way when you can show students an actual projection,” Faison says.
The new facility will also be used by school groups from the New Haven area. Jeffrey Kenney, chair of the astronomy department, has made it a goal to have every New Haven student visit the planetarium by the time they finish sixth grade. The department plans on working with Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History to create school programs that include a trip to the planetarium, located nearby the museum in Farnham Memorial Gardens, 355 Prospect St.
“I believe strongly in improving science education for New Haven’s school kids,” Kenney says. “Astronomy is one of the most inspiring sciences for school kids. We have the chance to let them engage with it in a way they couldn’t before.”
Kenney also stressed how versatile the planetarium is, noting that it can be used for shows not just about astronomy, but also chemistry, biology, even computing and the arts — anything that can be displayed on a dome. “It’s a facility that’s available to other departments and groups,” he says.
The Leitner Family Observatory and Planetarium opened just in time to host many of the events the astronomy department has planned to celebrate the U.N.-designated International Year of Astronomy in 2009, which commemorates the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s exploration of the heavens using a telescope. Science centers, universities and planetariums around the world will host talks, displays and events in celebration - and Yale is no exception.
Already in the works are a series of public talks by well-known astronomy writers, including Discover Magazine blogger Phil Plait, a Spanish-language talk and planetarium show, as well as planetarium movie nights, a special astronomy-themed Yale Symphony Orchestra concert, classes on how to use a telescope and more.
To learn more about the Leitner Family Observatory and Planetarium, visit www.astro.yale.edu/observatory/welcome. For more information about the International Year of Astronomy events, visit www.astro.yale.edu/iya2009.
— By Suzanne Taylor Muzzin