BUCKHANNON – Exploring the night sky and finding the planets, meteors, comets, constellations and other natural phenomena is lots of fun and locally, Upshur County residents have monthly planetarium sky shows to help them learn all about these celestial bodies.
On Saturday, folks gathered at the West Virginia Wesleyan College Planetarium, located on the second floor of Christopher Hall, to view a show focused on the constellation of Orion, which included various stories from many different cultures. Dr. Tracey DeLaney, WVWC assistant professor of physics, has led the bimonthly planetarium sky shows for more than nine years and said she does the shows mostly because she thinks they are cool.
“I knew I wanted to be an astronomer from when I was just a little girl,” DeLaney said. “Part of this is, you go through college and you go through graduate school and complete your formal research studying these obscure minor facts about things, so reconnecting with astronomy at the level I fell in love with it is the cool thing for me.”
“Whether I had an audience or not, I would been in here talking to no one just because I am excited about it,” she said with a smile.
Wesleyan is an educational institution and after all, why wouldn’t Wesleyan professors take advantage of the access they have to the planetarium?
“It’s here! We need to make use of this facility,” she shared. “One of the reasons this planetarium was built was to be a public resource for the area. It was built at a time, in the late 1960s when everybody was doing planetaria for the purpose of public engagement in addition to classroom use.”
William Carr attended Saturday’s Planetarium Sky Show about Orion and brought his family along as well. He said he was excited for the show because he remembered coming to the planetarium at Wesleyan as a young child to see the sky shows.
“When I was in third and fourth grade, we got to come over here and it was so cool,” Carr shared. “It was about all of the planets, and I still remember it.”
Carr said the only aspect that’s changed is, he feels the planetarium was much bigger when he was just a small lad.
The shows are at 8 p.m. on the first and third Saturdays of each month and are presented year-round. On Jan. 18, the show is “Galileo: The Power of the Telescope;” on Feb. 1 is “Larry Cat in Space;” and on Feb. 15 the show is “Space Park 360 Infinity.”
“Galileo was the first person to steal the telescope from a Dutch guy named Hans Lippershey,” Delaney said, laughing. “Galileo was the first guy to sort of use the idea of two pieces of glass to do magnification and say, ‘let’s point it up instead of down.’”
Delaney said the show goes through what can be done with the telescope lenses and the science behind them and explains modern telescopes as well as the capabilities of bigger and better telescopes. She said the first show in February is one of the older planetarium shows she has access to, adding it was first produced years ago.
“‘Larry Cat in Space’ is wonderful for kids and is exactly their speed,” she said. “The idea is a cat wants to go to the moon with his person. He waits a year until she comes back to visit and then he stows away and heads to the moon. This is an animated show and is a favorite for the younger set.”
The final show in February should be first on the list of amusement park thrill seekers. If you’re not interested in astronomy, but really like going on rollercoasters and similar adventures, “Well this is your show,” DeLaney said.
“It is simulated theme park rides,” she said. “You sit there in the planetarium and motion is happening overhead. Because your brain is really confused, you feel like you are actually in motion. If you like rollercoasters, this is for you – if you get motion sick easily, this is not the show for you.”
DeLaney said the shows are a mixture of higher level and more elementary, kid-friendly productions.
“On the Wesleyan planetarium site, I have links to videos so folks can preview the content to decide what age level the shows are appropriate for,” she said. That site is located at www.wvwc.edu/planetarium.
The WVWC Planetarium Sky Shows begin at 8 p.m. and doors open at 7:30 p.m. Space is on a first-come, first-served basis and there is seating for 40 people at each show. Admission is $3 for adults and $2 for seniors and students. Children under 18 who are accompanied by an adult are admitted for free.
“Schools will request to come to the planetarium for shows during the year and those, along with shows for Stockert Youth Center, Boy Scout Dens, Girl Scout Troops and other youth groups can call and schedule a show,” she said. “We do not charge for any kids’ groups and the money collected from the bimonthly shows helps defray the costs for the content and the bulbs in our projector. It pays the offset for running the planetarium.”
Following the sky shows, weather permitting, there is telescope observation and each show features a tour of the evening sky along with free sky charts.
Additional information is available by calling Delaney at 304-473-8330.