Planetarium Creates New Programs for an Unexpected, Stay-at-Home World

Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea. An Illustration for a new constellations-mythology program.
Drawing by Vanderbilt artist Megan Gallipeau.

The Reichert Planetarium is closed for now. But its astronomy educators, artists, and show producers are busy creating new programs to make it easy for parents and children to enjoy the Planetarium – at home.

“We are producing an array of virtual planetarium programs that we will begin posting on a YouTube channel called Reichert Planetarium’s Virtual Outreach. The first episode, titled How to Use a Telescope, is now live,” said Dave Bush, director of the Reichert Planetarium.

“Other projects will include a comic strip based on ‘Konnie’ – our affectionately named planetarium star projector, a coloring book; crafts and projects targeted to family groups for home use; and educational materials for teachers to download and use with their at-home students.”

Some programs will be posted on the Museum’s website and on social media.

The Planetarium’s Konica Minolta star projector was the inspiration for a character called “Konnie” to be featured in a comic strip that presents astronomy information in an entertaining way, Bush said: “Konnie will become a comic strip and we’re considering turning the strips into coloring books.”

When the Planetarium reopens, visitors will see several fresh, original programs. Bush and his staff have created new program scripts for staff who operate the projector and star-ball systems through the command console in the rear of the Planetarium’s William and Mollie Rogers Theater. The programs explore stars visible during the different seasons, as well as trips to the planets.

“Programs cover a wide range of subjects,” Bush said, “including tours of habitable worlds, the history of space exploration, the solar system, the life cycle of stars, how far Earth is from the stars, and how astronomers measure that distance. Console operators are developing their own 20- and 45-minute star talks, with their personal choice of music, narration, imagery, and humor.”

Bush plans to produce virtual planetarium shows using the popular conferencing app Zoom. He is creating the shows remotely, away from the planetarium, using professional recording equipment and video-editing software.

The Reichert Planetarium staff is creating downloadable worksheets for children. “Our challenge is, what do we add to make sure kids stay interested and engaged?” Bush said. “We want to make the pages make sense visually, with fun information, games and characters.”

The team is also developing new mythology shows for both recorded and live presentations. The shows will be a series of short constellation stories from ancient civilizations around the world.

“We have talented artists on staff who can create the characters, scenery and panoramas that will be displayed on the domed projection screen of the planetarium,” Bush said. “We’ve tossed around the idea of turning ‘Konnie’ into a time machine. We can imagine traveling through time in an imaginary spaceship. We can be magically transported to lands in ancient places like Greece, Rome, and Stonehenge, as well as in original, imaginary landscapes. Whatever we want!”

While Bush and his colleagues produce new programs, they are also “touching up” existing educational programs for school groups, he said: “Now we have the time to focus on the things we need to do to enhance programming.”

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