Due to delays, remodeling the planetarium took more than a year.
Seventy-two fourth-graders spent the morning on Tuesday, Oct. 2, gazing upward with amazement at the star-filled 40-foot planetarium dome.
The planetarium was originally slotted to open in 2011, before fierce winds removed the roof of the adjacent Science and Technology Center in June that year. The center was the former site of Pond Spring Elementary.
The damaged half of the building that houses the center has since been repaired. The center’s role as a science lab will continue.
The planetarium portion was upgraded with the recent installation of the Konica-Minolta Media Globe II, which features a 360-degree fish-eye projection lens. Along with the planetarium’s astronomy display, the facility’s other science exhibits include a rock collection and a 14-inch telescope, which was donated by NASA.
Recently Walker County school board member James Smith unveiled the universe — as depicted on the planetarium dome — to students, as he has done for nearly 52 years. Smith, a former science teacher in the Walker County school system, taught from 1960-91. He is volunteering his time to get the planetarium program restarted this year.
The children seemed thoroughly impressed with Smith’s presentation, emitting “oohs” and “aahs” as they entered the theater-like room. With a red laser pointer, the retired educator identified certain stars that made shapes (known as asterisms), such as the “Summer Triangle,” which includes the stars Denab, Vega and Altair, that can be viewed in the western sky.
During the program’s video narration, the “Great Square of Pegasus” was compared to a celestial baseball diamond in the sky with its “all-star outfield” leading the way to the Andromeda galaxy. This galaxy is the most distant object visible by human sight, at 2.5 million light years away.
During Smith’s discussion, he orientated the simulated solar system to the front of the room for the best viewing angle with a specialized program that controls the projector. The “Autumn Stargazing” program that students viewed is just one of 16 astronomy programs the school system currently has, with plans for expansion into other learning environments.
After the voyage through earth’s solar system, students returned to their world and saw a preview of the enchanted reef “Kalouka’hina,” a program the school system will soon purchase. The animated feature gives a realistic underwater view of life in the ocean. Other programs the school system is in the process of buying includes “One World, One Sky” with Big Bird and Elmo from “Sesame Street,” and a historical and moderately scientific look at winter with “Season of Lights.”
Starting on Sunday, Oct. 7, the Smith Planetarium will be open to the public at 2:30 p.m. on the first Sunday of the each month. The facility also will be open to the public at 7:30 p.m. on the last Tuesday of each month, which falls on the 30th for October.
There is no admission fee for public programs at the planetarium, which is located at 409 Pond Springs Road south of Chickamauga.