Aspen students study the stars |

Aspen students study the stars

Joel Stonington
Aspen Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado

ASPEN, Colorado ” Aspen High School’s planetarium has come a long way since it was built in the mid-1960s.

Boasting a brick silo 14 feet in diameter with a white dome hung in the middle, the planetarium isn’t much to look at. When it originally was built, the star machine in the middle was not much more than a globe with pinholes.

A new projector can beam images from the famed Hubble Space Telescope or a perfect representation of the night sky onto the ceiling. While the projector has the capability to project high-quality digital movies featuring images from the Hubble Space Telescope, hurdles remain, such as the high cost of the movies, sometimes as much as $2,000 for a half-hour film.

Earth science teacher Travis Moore and physics teacher Marc Whitley took a lunch period Tuesday to show off what the new planetarium can do.

First they projected the noon sky onto the ceiling. Then they dimmed the sun and showed just what the sky would look like at that exact moment. Next they displayed how the machine can highlight constellations, zoom in on actual images of planets and label specific stars at the touch of a button.

“Students know 20 constellations and a dozen of the largest stars,” Moore said. “If there’s a current event ” right now we’re talking about Mercury because of the Messenger spacecraft flyby ” we can focus on it. Facts are changing all the time.”

The $19,500 projector and a $10,000 sound system were paid for by the Aspen School District, a private donor, a grant from the Aspen Education Foundation and the Aspen Science Center.

“It turns the night sky into this amazing, rich adventure,” said Kevin Ward, science center director. Ward said he hopes to see the planetarium open for shows to the general public, movie screenings and collaborations with physicists from the Aspen Physics Center.

At the moment, the primary use of the planetarium is as a teaching tool. The new planetarium has been inspiring students with a new hands-on method of looking up.

“It’s really rare for kids to suggest a new course, especially one that’s science-based,” Bates said. “But kids have walked in and demanded a new, higher-level astronomy course.”

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