Thursday, October 22, 2020

Planetarium plans demonstrations

The Northcountry Planetarium will be holding three demonstration shows in the newly renovated facility today in Hudson Hall at 3, 3:45 and 4:30 p.m. The 30-minute shows will show the public and the campus community what the facilities can do.

The first 30 minute demo shows were held Nov. 11.

“We wanted to get people in and satisfy their curiosity,” Director of the Northcountry Planetarium Lisabeth Kissner said. “Also give them a chance to see how the facilities look like these days.”

Kissner said instead of running three shows, which they anticipated. They ended up running an extra show because of the influx of people that showed up.

“We had so many people come in last Saturday,” Kissner said. “We got to show around 160 people our facilities and we’re doing the same thing today.”

The planetarium, which officially reopened Homecoming Weekend, Oct. 14-15, had an overwhelming amount of interest from the campus and the community for over the last year and a half.

“We were supposed to open in 2014 but we had to keep postponing it,” Kissner said. By the time we were ready to open in mid-October we had about 100 request from the local community to see the facilities.”

The planetarium has a long history here at Plattsburgh State. First built in 1964, it was part of a wave of federal funding that built college and university planetariums across the country in response to the Cold War.

The planetarium ran uninterrupted for 34 years, prior to its first renovation in 1999. That year, a Stafford Initiative Grant brought a Zeiss ZKP3 Skymaster to campus. The machine simulates the night sky by projecting light through dozens of small holes and lenses from two opposing star balls. The Skymaster can also project more than 7,000 stars and can demonstrate the motion of celestial objects such as the sun, moon, planets, stars, and deep space.

Until 2010 they ran 35mm slide projectors for full dome coverage.

“That same year we had to remove all the equipment and close the theater because the whole science building was being renovated,” Kissner said. “We started putting stuff back in 2012 and from then now we’ve been slowing adding materials.

In 2014, the planetarium received another upgrade when two Zeiss Spacegate digital projectors were added. Along with the SkyMaster, it allows full-dome coverage of either still celestial imagery or video animation.

Kissner first came to PSUC in 1987 and first worked as a student operator at the planetarium and then after she graduated she was hired as the associate director at the time.

“Our long-term goal is to get back to where we were in the 80s and 90s,” Kissner said. “Which is running three to five elementary school shows a week and probably about two to four monthly public shows on Fridays.”

Kissner said most of the content in the shows will be a mix of everything from solar system information, what’s up in the sky tonight and stars and constellations.

“Especially with the younger kids they have a lot of questions and their imagination goes through the roof,” Kissner said.

Kissner said they have more plans in the coming months with four school shows already booked in December.

“Once we get back from winter break we’ll start up again in February,” she said. “Eventually we will have a show dedicated to each public school level.”

Kissner said public shows will be topic specific like astral biology, black holes or what’s in the sky this season.

Programming these shows and making sure things go to plan are student operators who work alongside Kissner.

Two of these students operator are PSUC students Jennifer Kump and Jeremy Fithian.

“It was a lot of pressure at first,” Fithian said, who started working at the planetarium since fall 2015. “You don’t want to mess anything up. But once you et a feel of what to do. It becomes a lot of fun.”

Fithian manages the Hercules lighting and other lighting effects in the planetarium.

Fithian said there is a learning curve but now he is able to program a lot of different things.

Kump, who has been working at the planetarium since spring 2014, said she is responsible for programming of the SpaceGate machine and the visual projection of stars.

“For the SpaceGate it’s more digital so we can overlay different forms of artwork when we’re programming shows. You can do a lot of here.”

Kump said that they work with a range of audiences so there’s tons of different thing they can show.

“It’s a great feeling when you make someone smile,” Kump said.

Kissner said the feedback from people have been very supportive.

“The phone has been ringing off the hook,” Kissner said. “The website is not even up yet. We got a little bit of Facebook coverage but it’s been really word of mouth.”

Kump said they want to make this a great experience where people can maybe learn some new things and grow an interest in astronomy and planetarium science.

Email David Luces at managingeditor@cardinalpointsonline.com

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