WVU Planetarium offers celestial experience
Published: Monday, October 1, 2012
Updated: Monday, October 1, 2012 07:10
An inconspicuous pair of doors on the top floor of White Hall hide West Virginia University’s best-kept secret: a high-tech window into outer space.
The Tomchin Planetarium is a digital observatory in the recently completed White Hall. Open to students and the public, the planetarium regularly screens scientific documentaries and digital stargazing sessions to audiences of more than 30 people.
The best part: All shows are free of charge.
"This is entirely for the public," said Professor Jon Hopkins, caretaker of the planetarium. "This is a conscious effort from the Physics Department and the college of arts and sciences to do outreach for the community."
In the planetarium, two rings of reclined seats allow audiences a view of the massive, mesmerizing domed ceiling. As the lights darken, images of constellations, planets and other cosmic wonders are projected into the dome.
Hopkins said the Planetarium is a way to make science fun for the audience.
"We try to entertain as well as educate," Hopkins said. "Nobody wants to hear anyone do differential equations for 45 minutes."
Past shows have included a documentary titled "Tales of the Maya Skies," a psychedelic exploration of Mayan mythology, and "Ultimate Universe," a visually stunning tour of the solar system.
A love of astronomy brings more than just students to the Planetarium.
"Words can’t describe how awesome it is," said Morgantown resident Dean Glassman after watching a planetarium documentary. "It’s going to take time to process how much ground we covered through space and time – literally."
Growing up near planetariums in Miami left Glassman with a love for the cosmos.
"I’ve always been fascinated with science and astronomy, and this is one of the things I really look forward to," he said. "This blows away anything I’ve seen on TV."
Glassman said he believes it’s important for young people to attend the shows – especially college students.
"It puts in perspective how small and insignificant we are in the grand scheme of things. The more you learn, the more you realize there is to learn," he said.
"Every time I come here, I’m more and more impressed with what the professors put on," he said. "The University should really do more to promote this."
The new Planetarium in White Hall is several times larger (and more high-tech) than the original location in Hodges Hall – something that doesn’t go unnoticed.
"It was way more high tech than I ever expected it to be," said Cheyenne LaClair, a sophomore physics student.
LaClair said she enjoys how the planetarium shows break down barriers between advanced science and the general public.
"They did a really good job of being scientifically accurate, while using language everyone can understand," she said.
She also said she feels the programs are an important resource for the community.
"I think it’s an amazing opportunity for the public to learn about something that isn’t really talked about except in specialized classes that cost money," she said.
LaClair also said she supports the decision to keep the programs free.
"I feel like making it free and open to the general public was absolutely the best decision they could have made, as far as getting the community involved in science," she said.
Showings are held twice a month. For star charts, information about upcoming showings, or to learn more about the planetarium, visit http://planetarium.wvu.edu.