When the moon is in the seventh sun…

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The “star balls” at the University of Michigan Planetarium (technical term, according to Nathan Crockett) courtesy of Arnab Nandi

One of my housemates, Nate, is an astronomy PhD student and the GSI (i.e. TA) for Astronomy 101. As such, he has been trained to run the planetarium in Angell Hall, which quite frankly I didn’t know existed until he told us about it. Last night he treated a bunch of us to a free show after hours.

It’s a small planetarium (seats 32), but that doesn’t mean it’s not awesome. For starters, before Nate got the appropriate software loaded, we were all highly entertained by the LED light arrays that lit up the screen with varying colors. Being that a high concentration of us were EECS nerds, we of course inspected the arrays and discovered that they were made by Color Kinetics! (Okay, I was the only one in the room who was excited by that, but I did call Johnston to let him know that we were using his company’s lights.)
Once things were up and running, Nate very professionally led us through the constellations as seen from various locations and time — I learned quite a bit. And he had to put up with a lot of backseat planetarium navigation: “Nate, move us up 10 degrees,” “Nate, show us an eclipse!” “Nate, can we see what it’s like in Alaska,” “Nate, show us an eclipse!” “Nate, we want to see the planets,” “Nate, show us an eclipse!” “Nate, back up a few days — no, no, other way!” (For what it’s worth, despite the fact that he insisted it couldn’t be done, he sort of managed a solar eclipse.) My personal favorites were seeing the planets in retrograde and making sound effects when the moon would zip around us.
Oh, and because I said I’d blog this… “This one time, I was trying to impress a girl with my three-inch refractive telescope…”

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One response

  1. I am liking those smaller planetariums better, for the night sky experience is one of tension between The Great Vastness and (unique-to-the-individual/s) Intimacy. That does not seem to occur so readily in the “…Bigger than both you and me, Uncle Milty” great halls where the usual science of modern perfections is practiced.
    (And your – or is that his – last line is a kick!)