Thursday, July 25, 2024

Stars shine in North Country Planetarium

The North Country Planetarium, located in Plattsburgh State’s Hudson Hall, is essentially  a movie theater with a more powerful and specialized projector in which one can sit back in comfortable, reclinable chairs and let their mind wander as they view celestial objects as if they were only feet away.  

Tonight and tomorrow night’s shows at 6, 7:30 and 3 p.m. will be split into two parts. One section of the show will be a live viewing of this Fall’s Ephemeris, or position of constellations in the night sky at this time of year. The other section will be a film which documents the events of our world’s most recent space race funded by Google.

“Fifty or 60 years ago, we had a huge space race with constant moon missions,” PSUC junior environmental studies major and student planetarian Jordon McCloud said. “The movie is about reintroducing the world to [the moon].”

The film, “Back to the Moon for Good”, is narrated by the voice of Buzz Lightyear, Tim Allen. It focuses on the $30 million incentivized global competition through Lunar XPrize and funded by Google, which was designed to get everyday citizens excited about space exploration in 2007.

Lisabeth Kissner is the director of the North Country Planetarium and a professor of astronomy at PSUC.

“The thing that I really liked about this video is that it really speaks to the kids,” Kissner said.

The film was selected by the student planetarians and will be accompanied by additional informational boards which will be on display in the halls outside of the planetarium.

Junior anthropology major Kayla Gladle also works at the planetarium as a student planetarian. She is a member of the Galilean Society Astronomy Club on campus.

“It just so happens that everyone that works for the planetarium is also in Astronomy Club,” Gladle said.

Students must have at least taken an introductory course in astronomy to partake in the planetarian elective.

Gladle described the other portion of the show as focusing on the Fall Ephemeris.

“It starts with sunset and then we bring up the stars and the moon,” Gladle said. Kissner has information for what constellations and celestial bodies are currently visible.  

“The director, Lisa, has a reference book and we get all of our astronomical viewing stuff from there,” Gladle said. “This show will focus a lot on the moon,” Gladle said, “and we will show some of the basic constellations that you can see at the moment.”

Audience members will receive a directional orientation from Kissner at the beginning of the upcoming shows and will be shown where north, south, east and west are on the planetarium’s 7.3 meters-across dome ceiling. Images of seasonal constellations, such as Sagittarius, Capricorn, and Boötes, as well as circumpolar constellations like Cassiopeia and Ursa Major and Minor will be visible.

Kissner will narrate the journey through the cosmos and cue student planetarians to change which constellations audience members can view. The stick-figure-like shape of the constellations is programmed into a workstation of computers on a program called Sky Post.

“The computers keep track of the celestial objects with regard to time and space,” Kissner said.

The celestial objects are then projected with clarity and color onto the dome by a Ziess ZKP3/B Optical-Mechanical projector.

“A pretty good voltage runs through it and energizes a lamp that projects a light,” Kissner said. “That lamp projects a light that passes through a series of lenses to create either stars, planets, or a deep space object.”  

The room is kept at a low temperature, around 57 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit, with dehumidifiers. If the room became hotter than 70 degrees, the equipment would overheat.

The cave lights in the planetarium provide trippy light effects and can turn the dimly lit, educational cave colors from blue, red, green and even purple. An event showcasing these lights and the special-effects work of student planetarian Jeremy Fithian is expected to take place in October, according to Kissner.  

Kissner emphasized the importance the North Country Planetarium holds in the community.

“We really are one of the big connections between the university and the community,” Kissner said. “It’s a great avenue to be in contact with the community and bring quality astronomy education.”

According to Kissner, working at the planetarium as a student has influenced around 10 to 12 alumnus to pursue jobs professionally in the field.

Kissner said the impact on some members of surrounding community have also been profound. One couple notified her that they named their child Orion, after the constellation.

“We’ve had a few couples who have requested to either become engaged or get married here,” Kissner said.

The North Country Planetarium provides a glimpse into a world commonly unseen by the average person.

“We always say that we try to be kind of the gateway to the Universe,” Kissner said, “and I try to have the students embrace that.”


Email Sage Lewandowski at

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