The Planetarium: A Glimpse into the Heavens
Galileo once used a telescope to observe what he referred to as “the heavens.” Since then, humanity’s interest in the sky has been seemingly boundless and everlasting. Similar to space, the knowledge that we have accumulated over the years seems infinite.
Along with the Hubble Telescope, the first man on the moon and the entrance into deep space, the Planetarium at the University of Minnesota Duluth is one of many accomplishments in our journey to know and understand the universe.
“Through the Planetarium, we can digitize and indigenize the sky. We like the challenge of putting together whatever it is people can imagine,” Jim Rock, planetarium Program Director, said.
The Marshall W. Alworth Planetarium offers live, interactive shows, covering everything from traditional star displays to cultural shows that show the importance of astronomy around the world.
“It is great for audiences of all ages,” Rock said.
One of the most compelling aspects of the planetarium is its 30-foot domed ceiling, which acts as a window of the universe. As the house lights dim, the stars begin to emerge overhead. Planetarium technology enables the audience to not only see the stars and their relationships as constellations, but to zoom in on various planets and the moons that encircle them.
“We cater to everything from birthday parties to weddings to classes,” Rock said.
“This year, we even had two marriage proposals in the planetarium,” Joshua Wasniewski, Program Coordinator for the planetarium added.
The planetarium hosts free shows every Wednesday night at 7 p.m., as well as affordable public shows every Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.
According to Rock, the planetarium had roughly 18,000 participants last year. That evens out to about 1,500 participants per month. Rock is happy with the planetarium’s success.
“The planetarium allows us to engage the public in a way that a lecture cannot,” Wasniewski said. “There are so many possibilities. That is the beauty of it,” he added.
A list of upcoming events is located on the Marshall W. Alworth website. The Planetarium’s next big event is “Astronomy Day.”
Set to take place on the fourth Saturday of April, “Astronomy Day” will include videos, lectures, demonstrations, booths, and workshops.
“We are really looking forward to it,” Rock said.
Surprisingly, for all it offers, the planetarium operates with very little funding and a small staff. It is the passion and dedication of those who work there that make it work.
“The fact that I am able to take people on an adventure every day that I come to work is so gratifying,” Wasniewski said.
According to Rock, the planetarium is a legacy that lives on. In fact, next year marks the fifty year anniversary of the planetarium’s birth.
“Astronomy shows us how rare this little blue ball is. When you compare the universe and all of the structures out there to our brains, the cells are pretty similar. We come from the stars. We are the stars,” Rock said.