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Early Darkness Provides More Night Sky Viewing During December UW Planetarium Programs

November 30, 2016
photo of Mars
In the evening sky, Mars shines as a bright red point of light. But, up close, Mars has more color to offer. This image reveals a white polar ice cap, rusty brown soil and even old lava flows that appear almost blue or black. Mars is among programs at the Harry C. Vaughan University of Wyoming Planetarium in December. (UW Planetarium Photo)

The days may be getting shorter, but that just provides more darkness to view objects in the night sky. Mars, the sun and the solar system are subjects of some of the astronomy programs at the Harry C. Vaughan University of Wyoming Planetarium in December.

“It may be the end of the year, but December heralds the winter solstice: the shortest days of the year and the start to a new season,” says Samantha Ogden, the planetarium’s coordinator. “Don’t fear the darkness. Instead, join us at the planetarium to experience the celestial gifts that are visible when the sun goes down.”

Friday shows during December start at 8 p.m., with a STAR Observatory tour scheduled to follow approximately an hour later. Kid-themed shows are scheduled Saturdays at 11 a.m. The month also includes two Tuesday night shows; both begin at 7 p.m.

Tickets cost $3 for students and $4 for non-students, and can be purchased at the Department of Physics and Astronomy main office, located in Room 204 of the Physical Sciences Building, Monday through Thursday, from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. and Friday from 8 a.m.-noon. Doors open 20 minutes before each show, where tickets will be sold if available. The planetarium, which seats 58, is located in the basement of the Physical Sciences Building.

Since the renovations were finished in November 2014, the full-dome shows now provide immersive 3-D experiences. Traditional star shows have been replaced with far more interactive presentations, similar to an IMAX theater. Laser shows consist of three lasers (red, blue and green) that project graphics on the dome. The lasers are synchronized with music, and pre-programmed graphics and images are displayed.

The December planetarium schedule:

-- “The Red Planet,” Friday, Dec. 2, 8 p.m. When visible, Mars appears as a bright red light in the night sky. The red light shines as an intriguing point of human curiosity and exploration. Mars, the fourth planet from the sun, has been the target of centuries of observation. Only in recent years have scientists begun to get a complete picture of the red planet: as it was, is currently and could be in the future. This program will introduce audiences to mankind’s ongoing exploration of Mars. A free STAR Observatory tour (weather dependent) follows at 9 p.m.

-- “Explore Our Sun,” Saturday, Dec. 3, 11 a.m. We see the sun every day, but have you ever wondered what that big ball of light in the sky really is? This show will travel 93 million miles to the hottest place in the solar system -- the center of our sun -- and back to the invisible force field -- the magnetic field -- that protects the Earth from the sun’s destructive winds. After the show, visitors will venture outside to safely view the sun and, hopefully, catch a glimpse of a sun spot or solar flare.

-- “This Month’s Sky,” Tuesday, Dec. 6, 7 p.m. As the months and seasons change in Wyoming, new and different astronomical events occur in the nighttime sky. No matter what time of year, there always is something to see after the sun goes down. From constellations to meteor showers to visible planets, the program acts as a guide to these remarkable events and where to find them.

-- “From Bang to Bust,” Friday, Dec. 9, 8 p.m. Philosophers have tackled mankind’s difficult questions over the course of civilization but, ultimately, the task of answering these questions has been passed to scientists. Thanks to technological and scientific advances, only recently has a picture evolved of the universe: how it came to be, how it exists now and how it all will end. This program provides an introduction to cosmology, which is the study of the universe as a whole. A free STAR Observatory tour (weather dependent) follows at 9 p.m.

-- “From Earth to the Universe,” Tuesday, Dec. 13, 7 p.m. The night sky, both beautiful and mysterious, has been the subject of campfire stories, ancient myths and awe for thousands of years. A desire to comprehend the universe may well be humanity’s oldest shared intellectual experience. Yet, only recently have people truly begun to grasp their place in the vast cosmos. To learn about this journey of celestial discovery -- from the theories of the ancient Greek astronomers to today’s grandest telescopes -- visitors can experience “From Earth to the Universe.”

-- “Layers of the Solar System,” Friday, Dec. 16, 8 p.m. Everyone has heard of the sun and eight planets (and Pluto) that comprise the solar system, but where does the solar system end? What lurks in space past Neptune, and what crucial roles do these cosmic objects play in peoples’ lives? The program unwraps the layers of the solar system, even the most unimaginable ones. A free STAR Observatory tour (weather dependent) follows at 9 p.m.

-- “An Introduction to Astronomy,” Saturday, Dec. 17, 11 a.m. What constellations will be visible this winter break? What ever happened to Pluto? How many stars can be counted in the night sky? How big is the universe beyond those stars? The program will tackle these questions and more. Perfect for aspiring astronomers and skygazers, this program introduces visitors to the wonders of the solar system, galaxy and beyond. After the show, visitors will have a chance to build their own Star Finders and bring home knowledge of the beauty of the night sky.

The planetarium will be closed during the Christmas holiday break.

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