Georgia Magazine - July 2017 - 31
scope in the Buice Observatory with
the aid of experts.
"There's nothing quite like getting
a closer look at a real object in the
real sky," Whitt says.
"The sun is our theme for the
year because of the total solar eclipse
happening on Aug. 21. That's a huge
deal in the astronomy world, because
85 [percent] to 90 percent of the U.S.
population will be able to see it."
The next one doesn't happen until 2024. (See eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov.)
For this year's event, Fernbank will
open to the public and hand out solar
filters. If it's cloudy, they'll run a live
NASA feed of the eclipse.
'The best free show'
VALDOSTA STATE UNIVERSITY
"One of the benefits of planetariums is that they create a more
scientifically literate society and make
people more aware of the night sky,"
says David Dundee, astronomy program manager at the Bentley Planetarium at the Tellus Science Museum
More than 20,000 schoolchildren
from Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee
and South Carolina visit the 40-footdiameter dome, 120-seat planetarium
each year. With eight shows daily, it is
one of the busiest theaters in the state.
Many planetariums have replaced
their old mechanical systems with
The planetarium at Valdosta State University
is used as a faculty research facility and a
resource for teaching students in the only
undergraduate astronomy program at a
Georgia public university.
digital ones, he explains.
"The advantage is being able to
switch shows easily and schedule
more viewings. Every planetarium offers a different experience, but they
are all cool places," Dundee says.
The show "To Space and Back"
introduces audiences to the latest discoveries about our universe,
while "Dynamic Earth" explores the
relationship between space and the
"The celestial bodies are the
best free show over your head every
night, and there are many benefits of
taking the time to go out and see it,"
Dundee says. "Astronomy is a way
for families to have fun in the natural
world together and learn something."
A planetarium offers a jump start
to the real experience, because it
makes learning astronomy accessible
during the day and offers views you
wouldn't be able to see on your own.
Calling all space travelers
The Coca-Cola Space Science
Center (CCSSC), a division of Columbus State University, houses the
Omnisphere Theater as well as the
MeadWestvaco Observatory. Unique
to this facility in Columbus is its Challenger Learning Center, where school
and community groups get to participate in simulated space travel and
visitors view a $20 million collection
of space shuttle artifacts.
This year, the center opened the
Space Shuttle Odyssey, a mini-theater
exhibit and interactive experience.
More than 35,000 students and adults
visit the CCSSC annually.
"This is one of the few museums
across the country completely dedicated to space science," says Shawn
Cruzen, executive director of the
CCSSC and professor of astronomy
at Columbus State University. "Educators and parents will tell you that
young children are most interested
in two things: dinosaurs and space/
rocket ships. We've got half of that
The center hosts planetarium
shows, open nights at the observatory, astronomy programs, guest lectures from NASA and summer camps.
More online at www.georgiamagazine.org
"Planetariums are a diverse and
multifaceted tool," Cruzen says. "Even
a simple star projector that can project virtual constellations of the night
sky in an urban area is useful, but
we've gone well beyond that.
"We've evolved to large-format,
digital theaters with state-of-the-art
sound systems that wrap around your
head for a totally immersive experience. It's impactful, educational and
Rotating the center's 30 different
shows keeps audiences coming back
for another taste of space.
"We can manipulate 3-D models in real time, fly through nebulae,
fly to a planet or down into Saturn's
rings," he says.
Being able to show the complete
night sky without barriers makes it
easier to point out connections and
explain astronomical concepts.
The center also hosts free astronomy programs on Monday nights at
Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain
through July 17.
"We set up a variety of telescopes
so that people can view the stars and
planets or point out the International
Space Station as it flies by," Cruzen
says. "For anyone who wants to learn
about the night sky, a planetarium is
a great place to start."
Cruzen considers the planetarium
and observatory an access point to
stimulate student curiosity and interest in the sciences, the space program
and the universe. The CCSSC sees all
local students annually from kindergarten through sixth grade.
"That's seven years of interface,
and one of my favorite parts of the
job is telling students how they can
become scientists or engineers, to
show them how to link their passion
to real careers," Cruzen says. "With
aerospace being such a large industry
in Georgia, I tell them that they may
not even have to leave the state to
find a job."
A hobby ... or a career
Some of those young enthusiasts
end up in astronomy programs, such
as the one at Valdosta State University
(VSU). VSU is the only Georgia public