‘Afternoon With Stars’ Sparkles

Amy Hirsch

“Afternoon with the Stars,” a free presentation to GCC students, was held at the planetarium on May 14, allowing an intriguing opportunity to explore the Universe.

Audience members sat back in comfort as Jennifer Krestow, the astronomy department head and planetarium educational coordinator, hosted and narrated the event.

As the show began, seats were automatically reclined and the compass directions were projected on the ceiling.

Krestow then explained, “now I’m going to launch us off the Earth, turn around and have a look at the Earth from outer space – if you get a sensation that you are moving, rest assured that you are not – you are sitting in chairs that are bolted to the floor.”

“If you look back, half of the Earth is in darkness …these are NASA images – satellite imagery from outer space, real photographs – the day side as well as the night side. These are the cities were people have turned on their lights – here, the Nile is beautifully illuminated at night.”

The program continued with a tour of the planets, followed by a view of the solar system looking like thin disc. Krestow pointed out the exception of Pluto, found to be outside the solar system and no longer considered a planet.

The audience then traveled through the asteroid belt, watching the planets move through their orbits in fast-forward time.

Krestow moved the students further away from the solar system and showed them several stars, which were recently discovered to have orbiting planets, known as exoplanets. Today, there are approximately 350 exoplanets known to man.

Krestow showed the students the Milky Way Galaxy, which is shaped like a disc with a bulge in the middle. She noted that we live in a spiral arm away from the center of our galaxy, which has about 250 billion stars.

Following this, the audience viewed a map of the 30,000 galaxies nearest to the Milky Way. Krestow pointed out that this was only a small portion of the 2 million galaxies that would be included in the area of sky covered by the dome.

After noting the possibility that other intelligent life may exist in the universe, Krestow indicated that any communication would be extremely problematic due to the huge distances involved.

Bringing the audience back from this captivating show with a quick return trip to earth, Krestow ended with the invitation “tell your friends and fellow students about this opportunity.”

Glendale student John Mooar said the planetarium is a “great place to marvel at the mystery of life and to feel less significant.. It [the presentation] was not only out of this world, but out of this galaxy.”

“At other planetarium exhibits we’ve seen before, we’ve stayed on the Earth and looked up at the stars,” said Mooar, “on this one we actually took a rocket ship off the planet and we just looked back at the Earth. then we could see the whole solar system, then the whole galaxy – the Milky Way, then other galaxies – it was really cool, it was magical.”

“We are currently the only community college planetarium of its type,” said Paul Buehler, senior instructional planetarium technician. “We are unique in the sense that we allow students to run the dome. to createand build content.students are trained from the ground up and we dedicate a lot of time to allowing students to create content and shows.”

Buehler said that the original funding for the planetarium came from a NASA grant – approximately $4.5 million.

“Afternoon with the Stars” shows lasting approximately 45 minutes are free to GCC students. The next events are scheduled for noon June 18, July 16 and August 20.

Additionally, the “Evening with the Stars” program lasting 65 minutes is open to the public with admission of $10. It is scheduled twice monthly, next on June 19 and 20.