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December Planetarium Shows Explore Mysteries of the Universe

November 22, 2017
star field with stars of all colors
Through increasingly powerful telescopes, astronomers have been able to see billions of other galaxies in our universe. In this photo, each dot represents a galaxy. The galaxies of the universe form a spider-web-like structure called the Cosmic Web. (UW Planetarium Photo)

For many, shorter days and longer nights in December are not especially welcome. Astronomers and stargazers likely will beg to differ as they have more opportunities to explore the universe.

“December shows at the UW Planetarium delve beyond the solar system to gaze at the mysteries of the universe: starting with the objects we can see with the naked eye, then on to what telescopes have seen of the galaxy, and beyond to what we currently understand of the structure and evolution of the universe,” says Samantha Ogden, the planetarium’s coordinator. “This month also features a special event, ‘Star of the Magi,’ as Chip Kobulnicky explores our ancient and modern understandings of the visible universe.”

Friday planetarium shows during December start at 7 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 three Tuesday night shows; they 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.-4:30 p.m. and Friday from 8 a.m.-noon. Tickets also can be purchased by going online at www.uwyo.edu/physics/ and clicking on “Planetarium Schedule.” 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 is as follows:

-- “The Astronomy Show to Get You Interested in Astronomy!” Friday, Dec. 1, 7 p.m. Moons, planets, stars and galaxies all contribute to the structure of our universe. While most of us look up at night and see a blanket of stars, astronomers see a structured space. Through observation and with the help of optics and logic, astronomers have synthesized the shape and composition of our universe at both a super-massive and molecular level. Furthermore, they have deduced the formation and end of our universe. During this program, visitors will discover the logical structure of our universe, explore what astronomy is all about and learn about ourselves by looking out into space. A free STAR Observatory tour (weather dependent) follows at 8 p.m.

-- “First Discoveries,” Saturday, Dec. 2, 11 a.m. We live in a golden age of astronomical discovery. In the past few hundred years, our solar system grew with the discovery of Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. Research on stars has revolutionized our understanding of their life cycle: how our sun was born and how it will eventually run out of fuel. Even recently, the detection of gravity waves has helped us to see black holes colliding in the universe. Astronomers understand much more about the universe now than they did even a few year ago. This program will explore some of the discoveries they have made, and how these discoveries change everything we thought we knew about space. After the show, visitors will have a chance to create their own telescopes to make discoveries for themselves.

-- “This Month’s Sky,” Tuesday, Dec. 5, 7 p.m. As the months and seasons change in Wyoming, new astronomical events occur in the nighttime sky. No matter what time of year, there is always something to see after the sun goes down. From constellations to meteor showers to visible planets, this program acts as your guide to these remarkable events and where to find them.

 -- “More than Darkness,” Friday, Dec. 8, 7 p.m. All that we see in our universe makes up less than 5 percent of its actual mass. So, what is the other 95 percent? Only in recent history has this mysterious substance been described as “dark energy” and “dark matter.” Both have rewritten our understandings of astrophysics on great scales. During this program, join the exploration of the other 95 percent of the universe: dark matter, dark energy and how they impact the future of the cosmos. A free STAR Observatory tour (weather dependent) follows at 8:30 p.m.

-- “Seeing,” Tuesday, Dec. 12, 7 p.m. Ride a photon across the galaxy to your mind's eye and experience how we see. This program follows a photon’s creation and journey across the galaxy to a young stargazer’s eye. From there, visitors will witness the conversion to an electrochemical impulse that then travels the neuro-pathways of the brain to the various centers that create the image the brain sees.

-- “Star of the Magi,” Friday, Dec. 15, 7 p.m. The book of Matthew describes a "star that rose in the East" as leading "magi" to the birthplace of Jesus. Could this star, depicted in artwork for nearly 2,000 years, have been an astronomical event? A supernova? A comet?  A planetary conjunction with great significance? Visitors can speculate and learn about the heavens and wonder as astronomer Chip Kobulnicky presents celestial possibilities that may underlie this storied event. A free STAR Observatory tour (weather dependent) follows at 8:30 p.m.

-- “To Infinity and Further,” Saturday, Dec. 16, 11 a.m. Looking up at the night sky, people may be able to count a few thousand stars -- if they have the time and patience. But, did you know that the Milky Way galaxy is made of more than 100 billion stars? And, there are at least 100 billion galaxies in the universe. On top of that, the universe has been expanding since the Big Bang. This program will explore deep into the past to discover the age and size of our universe. After the show, visitors can see the expanding universe in their own hands with stretchy universe slime.

 -- “Star of the Magi,” Saturday, Dec. 16, 1 p.m. The book of Matthew describes a "star that rose in the East" as leading "magi" to the birthplace of Jesus. Could this star, depicted in artwork for nearly 2,000 years, have been an astronomical event? A supernova? A comet? A planetary conjunction with great significance? Visitors can speculate and learn about the heavens and wonder as astronomer Chip Kobulnicky presents celestial possibilities that may underlie this storied event.  

-- “This Month’s Sky,” Tuesday, Dec. 19, 7 p.m. As the months and seasons change in Wyoming, new astronomical events occur in the nighttime sky. No matter what time of year, there is always something to see after the sun goes down. From constellations to meteor showers to visible planets, this program acts as your guide to these remarkable events and where to find them.

The planetarium will be closed Dec. 20-Jan. 2 for winter break.


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