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This article was prepared for the March 31, 2004
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At the State Museum
Jay Schwartz still has the ticket from when he visited the Hayden Planetarium for the first time. "I remember the sense of magic that I felt when I saw the huge projector, and the way it moved so gracefully. It was something I never forget."
Now Schwartz, a 17-year veteran of the New Jersey State Museum, is assistant curator and director of the programs for the 40-foot dome planetarium, the state’s largest. As he prepares for the onslaught of families bringing children to see stars during their spring vacation, he tells what’s new – and what’s still good – in planetarium technology.
Schwartz is still a fan of familiar lens system projector that looks like a dumbbell, with its two hemispheres. "An all lens system depicts the magnitudes and the sharpness of the stars that amateur astronomers love. We have what I believe is an extremely accurate planetarium sky. It looks like a real sky. You can feel like you are outside."
In contrast, the Fels Planetarium at Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute has moved to a digital system, and the planetarium at Raritan Valley Community College has a smaller digital system. The recently upgraded Hayden Planetarium in New York has both a new huge dumbbell-shaped projector and a digital system.
"The newer digital systems are looking better and can produce audience-pleasing special effects," Schwartz says, "but most astronomers would not be extremely happy with the sky field. Nothing can beat an old lens system, not yet."
"When the children come in our planetarium they sense the magic, and when I ask them questions at the end of the show, half of their questions are about the instrument. They are so amazed to see the majestic machine. A digital projector just doesn’t have that.
Schwartz points out that the Hayden’s technology can "take the audience through a worm hole," but the actual sky presentation lasts just 18 to 25 minutes and is recorded. After seeing a preshow on video screens in a reception area, one audience files in and another audience files out.
"We do a traditional 45-minute presentation – you need that time to show the constellations and the stars," says Schwartz. "We have more of a personal touch. Our presentation is live, and there is interaction between the audience and the console operator. There is always a Q&A. And if there is an astronomical event, as with the Mars Rover, or five planets into the nighttime sky, we incorporate that."
New Jersey State Museum Planetarium, 205 West State Street, Trenton. 609-292-6303 (www.newjerseystatemuseum.org). The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. It is closed on Mondays, state holidays, and Good Friday, April 9. Museum is admission is free, but the planetarium charges nominal fees. Now through June 27, on weekends and on weekdays during spring vacation, two shows are running:
Laser Kid Power, Saturdays and Sundays, 1 and 3 p.m., and also during spring vacation, Tuesday to Friday, April 13 to 16, at noon. Cost: $5 per person (includes 3D glasses). Group rates available.
"This show sweeps you away on a star-filled fantasy of dancing light and sound," says the brochure. "Beginning with an introduction on how lasers were developed and work, the show continues with musical selections that include some of today’s most popular children’s songs. These zany tunes inspire and educate young audiences in a most entertaining way. Suitable for all ages."
Sky Show: NASA’s Ring World, Saturdays and Sundays, 2 and 4 p.m., and also during spring vacation, Tuesday to Friday, April 13 to 16, at 1 p.m. Cost: $3 for adults; $2 for children under 12. Group rates available.
"Experience Saturn as you never have before!" promises the brochure. "In 1997, the NASA spacecraft, Cassini, was launched to encounter and study the giant ringed planet Saturn. By June 2004, Cassini will orbit Saturn studying its rings and moons including its largest moon, Titan. See the highlights of this mission as narrated by Star Trek Enterprise’s John Billingsley in our new show. Suitable for children 11 and older."
On Thursday, April 22, at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., a "Bring Your Children to Work" special will feature Rusty Johnson’s "Twilight of the Wild" in the museum auditorium.
Raritan Valley College Planetarium, Raritan Valley Community College, Route 28 and Lamington Road, North Branch. Park in lot 1. 908-231-8805. Reservations recommended.
Spring Skies and Venus on Saturdays at 2 and 7 p.m. through May 22. Cost: $4.50. "Learn about the constellations Gemini, Leo, and Virgo as well as the planets Jupiter and Saturn," says the brochure. "Venus and Mars are low but visible in the west at sunset. A twice in a lifetime transit of Venus across the face of the Sun will also be explained during this star show."
3-D Laser Concert at 3 and 8 p.m., following the Star Shows through May 22. Cost: $5 plus optional 3-D glasses. Both star show and laser concert, $8.50. "More popular songs with laser images that pop off the dome," says the brochure. "You’ll feel like you can reach out and touch them."
"The Little Star That Could", on Tuesday and Thursday, April 13 and 15, at 2 p.m. (during spring break). For families with children ages 10 and under. Cost: $4.50
"Pink Floyd: The Wall," Saturday, May 8, 9 p.m. $5.
Newark Museum, 49 Washington Street, Newark 07102-3176. 973-596-6529. Home page: www.newarkmuseum.org. Museum admission is $3 for adults, $2 for children. Dreyfuss Planetarium tickets are $5 for adults, $2 for children and they go on sale at noon.
"Saturn: Ring World" starts at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, and at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. A children’s show, SkyQuest, is 2:30 p.m. from Wednesday to Friday and at 1 and 3 p.m. on weekends. Also on view, an exhibit called "Impacts: Asteroids, Comets, and Meteorites," noon to 5 p.m. in the Planetarium Gallery.
Available to schools is the museum’s Sphaera, a portable planetarium that can be set up in a space 25 feet square and 12 feet high. Astronomy experts can teach four 45-minute classes per day for $500.
Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space, West 81st Street, just west of Central Park West. Order tickets in advance online at www.amnh.org or at 212-769-5200. For same-day tickets, arrive early. Cost: $22, $13 for children, including museum admission. Each show lasts 40 minutes, including the pre-show, but because shows are scheduled at 30-minute intervals, the actual auditorium time is about 20 minutes.
Passport to the Universe, narrated by Tom Hanks, an amazing journey from Earth to the edge of the universe. Daily at 11 a.m. and 1, 2, 3, and 4:30 p.m. Also on Fridays at 5:30 and 6:30 p.m.
The Search for Life: Are We Alone?, narrated by Harrison Ford. Daily at 10:30 and 11:30 a.m., and 12:30, 1:30, 2:30 and 4 p.m. Also on Friday at 5, 6, and 7 p.m.
Search for Life has a 1:1 panorama of the original Pathfinder/Sojourner landing, says Aram Friedman, subject of the cover story. "Because the image was taken with a stereo camera the team at Hayden was able to "render" a true 3D movie, it is as close to the real thing as you will ever get to the surface. In the second sequence the camera flies over the surface of Mars and over a canyon (see attached still from the show). This was rendered from actual data scanned by an orbiting probe. It is amazing to see."
Children’s Classes. Astro Favorites for 4 to 6-year-olds, three Thursdays, 4 p.m., starting April 15. $85.
Life on Mars? For ages 8 to 10, Saturday, April 24, 12:30 and 3 p.m., $30.
Red Rover to Mars, for ages 12 to 15, Tuesday to Thursday, May 18 to 20, 4 p.m., $45.
Space Explorers: Astronomy for Young Adults. "The Moon and Its Phases," Tuesday, April 13, 4:30 p.m. "Transit of Venus," Tuesday, May 11, 4:30 p.m. $10.
Summer Adventure Programs for age groups including children entering grade two through seven, 212-769-5758. Topics include astrophysics, primatology, robotics, ocean life, and frogs. Cost: $300 for three days, $400 for five days.
Tuesdays in the Dome: Virtual Universe, first Tuesdays, 6:30 p.m. $12. A three-dimensional atlas of the universe and tour through charted space. "The Distance Stepladder," April 6. The Big Bang and Cosmic Construction," May 4.
"This Just In," hot topics in astronomy and astrophysics, third Tuesdays, April 20 and May 18) at 6:30 p.m. $12.
"Celestial Highlights," last Tuesdays, 6:30 p.m., $12. Live presentations of the Zeiss Mark IX Star Projector. "The Comet Is Coming (Maybe)," April 27. "Transit of Venus," May 25.
Weekly Courses. "All About Telescopes,", four Mondays starting April 26, 6:30 p.m. $64. Peter Lipschutz, optics expert, amateur astronomer, and astrophotographer.
"Introduction to Astronomy, Six Mondays starting April 19, 6:30 p.m. $96. Jackie Faherty, museum educator and astrophysics enthusiast.
"Stellar Death: The Meaning of Life from the Cosmic Perspective," five Thursdays starting April 1, 6:30 p.m., $80. Orsola De Marco, Asimov Research Fellow in AMNH’s Department of Astrophysics.
"Scientific Explosion: The Expanding Universe," five Thursdays starting April 1, 6:30 p.m. $80. Dave Zurek, data collections manager in AMNH’s Department of Astrophysics, and Ryan Wyatt, science visualizer for Rose Center Production and Education.
"Photons to Photos," four Tuesdays starting April 6, 6:30 p.m., $64. Ryan Wyatt, science visualizer, Rose Center Production and Education.
"Eclipses & Transits," four Mondays starting May 3, 6:30 p.m., $64. Craig Small, director of exotic expeditions and avid eclipse chaser.
Lectures: Frontiers in Astrophysics. "The Acceleration of the Universe, $14. Monday, April 26, 7:30 p.m., Ruth Daly, formerly at Princeton University, now at Penn State. "Life, the Universe, and Seti in a Nutshell," Monday, May 3, 7:30 p.m., Jill Tarter, director, Center for SETI Research, SETI Institute.
Lectures: Distinguished Authors in Astronomy, $14. "Galaxies and the Cosmic Frontier William Waller, NASA’s New England Space Science Initiative in Education, Monday, April 19, 7:30 p.m. "The Book Nobody Read: Copernicus, Owen Gingerich, senior astronomer emeritus at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. Monday, May 10, 7:30 p.m.
Isaac Asimov Memorial Panel Debate: The Dark Side, Wednesday, April 21, 7:30 p.m., $14. LeFrak Theater. Katie Freese, University of Michigan; Brian Greene, Columbia University; Robert Kirshner, Harvard University; Michael S. Turner, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory; J. Anthony Tyson, Bell Labs, Lucent Technologies.
Cosmic Africa, screening of new documentary about astrophysicist Thebe Medupe, Thursday, April 29, 7:30 p.m., LeFrak Theater. $12. Special guest: Thebe Medupe.
Franklin Institute Science Museum: Fels Planetarium. 222 North 20th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103. 215-448-1200 (www.fi.edu). Tickets at $12.75 for adults, $10 for children, include the admission to the hands-on museum plus one planetarium show. An IMAX show is $4 extra. IMAX alone is $8. Open 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
Established in 1933 by contributor Samuel S. Fels, this was the second planetarium in the United States. The original perforated stainless steel dome has been replaced by a seamless aluminum dome that is 60-feet in diameter, manufactured by Spitz Inc. of Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania and billed as "the ultimate screen for cosmic projections."
The Sky Tonight. Daily at 2:15 p.m. "This classic planetarium presentation introduces the stars and planets seen in the night sky, and the concept of the earth’s rotation," says the brochure. "The show changes with the seasons so that you can try to locate constellations from your own backyard after seeing the show."
Star Lore: World Legends of the Night Sky. Weekdays at 3:15 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays at 12:15 p.m. and 4:15 p.m. "The commonly used set of constellations hides the fact that most cultures across the world have developed their own stories about the star patterns of the night sky," says the brochure. "This show offers a selection of stories highlighting how different cultures have arranged the stars to fit their cultural needs. The program also explains the science behind particular astronomical objects found in each star group.
A Date with Mars, Weekdays at 11 a.m., weekends at 11 a.m., 1:15 p.m., and 3:15 p.m.
Monday, April 5
Digging for Dinos, Rocking Rocks, and Crystal Creations, Raritan Valley Community College, Route 28, North Branch, 908-725-3420. For students ages 6 to 12 to discovering archaeology and paleontology as they excavate and assemble complete skeleton replicas from "fossilized" rock. Also, Tuesday, April 6. Register. $96. 9 a.m.
Wednesday, April 7
Wizard’s Workshop, Raritan Valley Community College, Route 28, North Branch, 908-725-3420. For students ages 9 to 12 to explore the world of magic. An alternate session is on Thursday, April 8. Register. $46. 1 p.m.
Super Science Make and Take, Raritan Valley Community College, Route 28, North Branch, 908-725-3420. For students ages 6 to 12 to discovering science as they make a wide variety of toys that are designed to illustrate scinece concepts and make learning fun. Also, Thursday, April 8. Register. $88. 9 a.m.
Rocket Robotics, Raritan Valley Community College, Route 28, North Branch, 908-725-3420. For students ages 7 to 12 to build and take home a real robot that works by the clap of th
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