By MICHELLE SCHMIDT
The problem is if you want to impress anyone now, you’re going to have to take it a step beyond the Big Dipper.
Enter the Washington State University Planetarium. The planetarium has been there forever — “eons” was the term Guy Worthey, planetarium co-director, used. (Though he may not have meant it literally; in astronomy, an eon is 1 billion years.) The problem, he said, was only people who really got to enjoy it were the couple thousand school kids coming through each year on field trips.
That all changed this past January when WSU opened up the planetarium to the public. Since then, they’ve put on two different shows, each with two showings. One of their shows even sold out. Their third and upcoming show, “Turn, Turn, Turn,” focuses on the calendar in the sky and begins Friday night.
Which brings us back to the Big Dipper. Assuming you’re still able to pick it out of the night sky, have you noticed that even when you’re facing the same geographic direction, the constellation is not typically where you last left it?
No, you’re not losing it (though the same can’t be said for the similar trouble you have with your TV remote), the constellations really do move in the night sky. Or rather, we move in relation to them. This movement, which gives us our seasons, is the reason the Big Dipper “moves” and it’s the reason some constellations can be seen year-round and others can’t.
If the classroom solar system models that showed the difference between a solstice and an equinox never quite made sense to you, you’re not alone. But the planetarium and its upcoming show is not a classroom. There are no painted Styrofoam balls. There’s no vocabulary list. There’s no test.
In fact, watching star patterns on a big, domed ceiling and listening to stories from ancient cultures might be, perhaps, a teeny bit entertaining, even for kids. And if you accidentally learn something in the process, all the better, say those with the planetarium.
Kaylan Petrie has never taken an astronomy class. This means as the show’s presenter she might have a lot in common with those in the audience.
Petrie is a self-taught fan of the sky, so her talks lean more toward casual and fun than bookish and smart. That that’s not to say she doesn’t know her stuff. She has worked in planetariums for four years and is studying informal science education at WSU.
Seasons, which the upcoming show focuses on, are a favorite topic for Petrie. This might be because she’s found the audience is so often surprised by what they thought they knew.
“There are a lot of misconceptions about timekeeping,” Petrie said.
She cites moon phases as something people often don’t understand as well as they think they do. But Petrie said the concept is easy once it’s shown and because she is having fun while serving as host for the show, her audience is typically quick to follow suit.
“I give the audience a lot of control in the way the show goes,” Petrie said. “I want to give them a show that’s unique to them.”
For more information on the upcoming show visit the WSU planetarium online.
If you go:
What: Turn, Turn, Turn: Equinoxes, Solstices, and Seasons
When: 7 p.m. Friday, March 13; and 5 p.m. Sunday, March 23
Where: WSU Planetarium, 231 Sloan Hall on the WSU campus in Pullman
Cost: $10/person advance or at the door, $7/WSU students advance tickets only. Children 6 and younger free. Tickets available at the Beasley Coliseum Box Office, TicketsWest.com, and (800) 325-SEAT.
Schmidt can be contacted at email@example.com or at (208) 305-4578.