WVU opens new planetarium, welcomes visitors

By BEN ADDUCCHIO
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

MORGANTOWN (AP) — West Virginia University’s new planetarium is open. It is a place where students and the public can observe what’s going on in the night sky.

The planetarium is already being used for public shows to watch stars and astronomical events.

It contains 60 seats that look like movie theater chairs, a computer console in the corner of the room and a projector in the middle of the room.

Physics professor Earl Scime is describing how all of the equipment works in the planetarium.

According to Scime, planetariums are becoming increasingly rare at universities, which is why he believes the one at WVU can be so valuable.

“From the student perspective, we teach descriptive astronomy and often students who take astronomy class think it’s all going to be looking at constellations, and pictures of the sky. Astronomy classes are really some basic fundamental science courses, but there is a component of that that involves looking at celestial objects, and now we have a facility where we can bring them in and show them these objects,” he said.

“We sometimes take them out for night viewing with telescopes, the weather in West Virginia can be unpredictable, particularly at night you can get a lot of cloud cover, so the planetarium gives us a certainty that we can show them these objects, and the night sky, and the universe in an entertaining way as well.”

This particular one uses a projection system, an SLR camera and two lenses to project an image into a dome on the ceiling, which looks like the sky at night.

Scime says the planetarium can also use some “special effects” to enhance the experience.

“Planetariums are primarily used for education; it’s not going to be used for research. The LED lighting is used primarily for atmosphere, if you’re watching a show about Mars, we can turn it red and have sort of a red glow at the base of the dome,” Scime said.

“This is a full dome immersion projection system; it surrounds you, and you really feel like you’re immersed in the view.”

At WVU, there are several professors working in physics and astronomy that will also use the planetarium to showcase their own research.

Scime says this expands the mission of a planetarium, and that’s only one reason why he says the school’s planetarium is unique.

“I think they are increasingly rare, there are certainly many schools that have planetariums, and few have routine public shows,” Scime said.

“I think that is unique for WVU that we have a goal of trying to provide this to the north central West Virginia community; it’s a place for teachers to bring students,” he said.

“People aren’t going to support things that they don’t have any personal experience or understanding of. It’s really the duty of facilities like this to try and share with the public, what it is that they are supporting, when they support scientific research, to be able to bring them in and show them a show that shows recent findings of radio astronomy, and hopefully facilities like this broaden the public’s view of what scientific research is and the role in this case of West Virginia in advancing that for the world.”

Scime isn’t an astronomer, but he does work in space research, studying the sun, the plasma that surrounds the Earth, and putting instruments on spacecrafts.

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