Staerkel Planetarium provides learning opportunities

Photo by Scott Wells

Photo by Scott Wells

Peter Floess

Staff Writer

Many events are being held at Parkland’s Staerkel Planetarium this February, including a planetarium show called “The Stargazer,” the return of The Artemis Bridge Simulator, and more.

“The Stargazer,” a small scene of which was filmed in the Staerkel Planetarium, uses University of Illinois astronomer James Kaler’s love of stars to give an introduction to the science behind them.

“Jim’s research focus was the end point of a star’s lifetime and the show does an excellent job spinning this story,” says David Leake, director of Staerkel Planetarium. “There is a topic in Astronomy 102 that we teach called the Hertzsprung-Russell Diagram. This show has probably the best treatment of the H-R Diagram that I’ve ever seen in a public program.”

The show demonstrates the basic science behind the end of star’s lifetime, including how black holes work, with the help of a cartoon Albert Einstein, who was one of the people who developed the theory behind black holes.

“The Stargazer” runs at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays through March 18.

In the lobby of Staerkel Planetarium, one can see the handmade planetarium model, made by Kaler out of cans as a twelve-year-old in the early 1950’s, which projects several hundred stars with tiny lights.

Also in the lobby, one can see the collection of meteorites on loan from the Kaler family, which contains meteorite samples from Argentina, Namibia, and Siberia. A meteorite is a small rocky object from space that survived entry into Earth’s atmosphere and landed on the ground mostly intact.

“The Stargazer” is narrated by Nichelle Nichols, who played Lieutenant Nyota Uhura in the “Star Trek” series of the 1960’s.

The voice of Nichols is not the only “Star Trek” related event that is going to happen at the Staerkel Planetarium, this February. On Saturday, February 11, The Artemis Bridge Simulator is returning to Staerkel.

“In a nutshell I would describe it as ‘Star Trek’ in game form,” says Deane Geiken, director of WPCD 88.7 FM and who organizes Artemis. “You have a ‘bridge’ of an animated starship complete with duty stations for Captain, Helm, Weapons, Science, Engineering and Communications and a person for each of those duties. They interact together as each duty station has a bit of information that the whole crew needs in order to win the game. In technical terms Artemis is a multiplayer, multi-computer networked game for Windows computers. Artemis simulates a spaceship bridge by networking several computers together. One computer runs the simulation and the ‘main screen,’ while the others serve as workstations for the normal jobs a starship bridge officer might do.”

Geiken is looking forward to The Artemis Bridge Simulator’s game day in 2017.

“We are using the latest update of the game [which] allows 2 extra players to participate in the game as fighter pilots that act alone but in conjunction with the other players,” says Geiken. “I am really happy that […] we have returning players that can enjoy the new updates and we have some newbies to the game too.”

The game is sold out for February 2017.

Saturdays at 7 p.m. until February 25, the children’s program, “One World, One Sky: Big Bird’s Adventure” will teach children about the moon and basic stargazing.

On Feb. 3 at 7 p.m., Thomas Loebel, cultural resource coordinator with the Illinois State Archeological Survey, will talk about archeological finds in McLean County and the French Fort DeChartes at the Planetarium as part of the ongoing “World of Science” lectures.

Beyond the month of February, Leake is looking forward to a show called “The Dark Matter Mystery,” which starts Friday, March 31 at 8 p.m.

“Dark matter is something often heard discussed on TV or in the classroom but this is the first time we have had a show devoted to the topic,” says Leake. “It’s actually a German planetarium show that was dubbed into English.”

Leake sees the Planetarium as “just a guide” and he hopes that shows such as “The Stargazer,” their weekly “Live” show at Fridays at 7 p.m., “Prairie Skies,” and other shows will encourage “people to get outside and take” the universe “all in for themselves.”