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"Seeing Stars" at Staerkel Planetarium

Assistant Editor

Published: Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Updated: Wednesday, September 21, 2011 12:09

It might be safe to say that most people are unaware of everything Parkland offers. It is also safe to say that no one can fault these people, because Parkland offers such a wide variety of resources that it would be very difficult to know all of them. One such resource, the William M. Staerkel Planetarium, is probably something that most Parkland students have at least heard of. However, the Planetarium offers much more than kid's shows and a place for astronomy classrooms.

The newest show at the Planetarium, Dawn of the Space Age, gives the audience a brilliantly illustrated look at the space race and the very first missions into space. Dawn of the Space Age gives a brief but detailed history of man's expeditions outside of earth that ends at the present day.

David Leake, Planetarium Coordinator, said that the film was screened at a conference he attended and he knew that it would be a great fit for Parkland. "It is an immersive program," Leake explained, adding that he felt the show would "make good use of the Digistar 4." The Digistar 4 is, according to the product's website, is "the world's best-selling and most advanced fulldome digital theatre system."

Leake explained that the Digistar 4 allows the staff to use the entire screen of the Planetarium instead of just a section. He felt that by replacing one of the older shows, Space Pioneers, which still featured 35 mm stills, the Planetarium would be able to entice new viewers and show them the incredible technology.

"A lot of people don't realize that (Parkland) has the second largest planetarium in the state, second only to Chicago," said Leake. He hopes that more people will take advantage of the opportunity presented by this, as not everyone has such a unique and entertaining feature so close by.

Aside from Dawn of the Space Age, the other shows scheduled to air this fall are classics that the Planetarium airs for short runs almost every year. Also, there is an interactive show which featured Fridays at 7 p.m., called Fall Prairie Skies. The show is a great way to learn which stars you are seeing, and to determine their importance.

The returning fall shows are Santa's Secret Star, which is directed at children but can be fun for the whole family. It helps to understand the different stars and to figure out how Santa is able to find his way around the world every year. Also, there is Season of Light, which will link many of as today's winter holidays with some ancient holidays. The show goes through the traditions of most cultures and explains some of the traditions that people embrace and practice every year.

Leake also said that a good bit of the ‘clientele' comes from the Champaign Area School District. The fourth grade curriculum, in particular, has a show that was created specifically to fill in some of the astronomy knowledge. However, there are shows for all age groups as the local schools will often take field trips to the planetarium.

Another exciting event is the World of Science lecture which will be taking place on Friday, October 7, and will feature meteorologist Ed Kieser. Kieser may be known to some local residents because he used to host a radio show on WILL AM with Leake. The show, Sky Guys, had a large fan base, but stopped production when Kieser moved away.

Parkland students and the surrounding community should keep the planetarium in mind when planning weekend events for the family. It is affordable, interesting, and even a little bit educational. More importantly, it is something unique to the Champaign area and should be taken advantage of.

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