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UMSL unveils planetarium with Sunday open house

UMSL planetarium in action
Timothy Wombles
UMSL planetarium in action

The University of Missouri-St. Louis is opening a newly renovated planetarium for students and the public. Astronomy professor Erika Gibb says the renovated facility is even a little more cutting edge than the Saint Louis Science Center’s planetarium, at least for now.

“Ours is actually ... a little more advanced because it is new,” she said, but UMSL is not competing with the Science Center's programming.

The approximately $250,000 project is intended for use in undergraduate astronomy and astrophysics courses. The cost includes a new projector to display images of the night sky against a domed screen and install new carpet and seating.

The UMSL planetarium's domed screen is illuminated prior to a show.
Credit Timothy Wombles
The planetarium's domed screen is illuminated prior to a show.

The school also wants to use the planetarium as an asset in  outreach, offering free showings for  school and recreational groups like Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. For Gibb, the outreach mission is just as important as her work with university students. She said she knows how powerful the introduction to science can be.

“I did a school project in fifth grade on the life cycle of stars, and I was hooked,” said Gibb. “That’s why it’s so important to get these elementary school and middle school kids in because they’re so excited about science. If you can get them hooked at that age, you know, maybe a few of them will stick with it and go on to make discoveries.”

The planetarium is operated by the Department of Physics and Astronomy. A primitive version of a planetarium was originally designed by Archimedes to predict movements of the moon and sun. As projection technology was developed, planetariums could graphically depict the movement of the earth, sun and other celestial bodies. According to Gibb, the new UMSL projector can also be programmed to place the viewer in different locations throughout the cosmos.

UMSL’s planetarium will host an open house Sunday with tours from 2  to 4 p.m. at half hour intervals. Groups can make appointments for visits throughout the year -- for free.