By Caroline Gordon
Mary MacDonald, planetarium manager, hosted a live planetarium show at the Christa McAuliffe Center Sept. 17.
MacDonald said she was very excited to start her first, monthly planetarium show ever since COVID-19 forced Framingham State to go virtual.
With students and staff back on campus, MacDonald instituted new protocols. Cell phones must be turned off because they cause a distraction in a dark room and face masks must be worn.
MacDonald started off the show by dimming the lights in the dome-shaped room. Afterwards, she projected the night sky as it appears at 5:15 p.m.
The audience was able to see the sun setting on the west side of the dome.
MacDonald discussed the moon, which peeked behind a building toward the southeast side.
Audience members were presented with an animation of the sun going down and the moon rising.
The full moon was present at the top of the planetarium dome.
“On the night of a full moon, which is a couple nights from now, it’s almost simultaneous,” MacDonald said.
She clicked her remote device which revealed a couple of visible planets.
The audience was able to see Jupiter, which was close to the moon.
To make sure there was no confusion with the actual size comparison between the projection and the real sky, she explained “it’s not going to appear exactly as close as it appears because you’re looking at a larger scale projection in reality.”
The next planet she pointed out was Venus, which she said was the closest to the sun.
“Sometimes, it’s not visible because it’s right next to the sun,” she said.
Not only did the audience see planets, they saw stars as well.
In order to see the stars better, she turned the room almost pitch black.
In the dome simulation, the time was 7 p.m. and Jupiter, Venus, and several stars were more visible.
“Just to give you a little preview, this is tonight,” she said.
MacDonald noted that during this time of the year, the moon is noticeably changing locations each night due to its month-long orbit.
She clarified there was a chance nobody in the Framingham/Boston area would see such visible stars or
planets, due to the light pollution crowding the sky.
The show then began to focus on stars.
MacDonald discussed stars such as Altair, Deneb and Vega, which are located together to form the Summer Triangle.
She noted the Summer Triangle is easy to see during the summer.
MacDonald soon after asked if the audience knew what the “fuzzy band of white light” was, which was across the entire dome.
She stated it was a portion of the Milky Way galaxy.
The audience couldn’t see the whole galaxy because the planet Earth is also inside of it.
Then, she discussed constellations as she introduced the topic, showing a little square in the sky, called “Pegasus.”
MacDonald added this was a fall constellation, meaning you could only see this set of stars throughout the fall season.
The winter constellations were a little different in terms of visibility. During the winter, they’re invisible, she said. The only way to see the winter constellations is to stay up late.
“As we get closer to winter, we start to see these earlier in the sky,” she said.
She then told the audience that the Summer Triangle would start to disappear, followed by Pegasus.
MacDonald added another star to the discussion called Arcturus. She told the audience that this was the brightest star in the sky as of this time of year.
She explained a quick little trick to help spot Arcturus.
The audience was asked to spot seven stars that formed a pot shape. MacDonald said those stars formed the Big Dipper.
She added the arched part of the Big Dipper points directly to Arcturus.
MacDonald discussed a group of stars named “Pleiades.”
After going through the simulation in the dome, she opened the Zoor for several questions.
One audience member asked, “So we were looking at Polaris, and it doesn’t move as much as the rest of the stars do, but it keeps moving a little bit. So how much is it actually moving?”
MacDonald said the stars themselves aren’t moving. She explained the stars are “directly aligned with the Earth’s North Pole.” The stars may appear to be moving, but that’s just the Earth rotating on its axis.
Once the questions were wrapped up, she played a full dome film called “Birth of Planet Earth,” which consisted of visually appealing scientific videos of how Earth was formed.
The film touched upon the mysterious origins of life.
It ended with the narrator asking a pressing question.
“The more we are able to reconstruct our past, the more singular it seems. That is, until we realize the very many other solar systems are out there. We ask, is Earth just one of countless, life-bearing worlds, or is it a wondrous twist of fate?”