Dr. Astalos promotes community involvement at Zacheis Planetarium

(02-08-2012)

By: Mariah Pepe

The Zacheis Planetarium springs into action under new director Robert Astalos. Astalos, an Adams State professor of physics, took control of the planetarium and observatory last summer.

Astalos is also the advisor of the astronomy club. “The club exists for the purpose of public outreach and promoting education of science, mainly astronomy,” said Astalos. The club hosts a wide variety of public activities, such as the sunspot viewing on Saturday, February 4, or observing the lunar eclipse at the wildlife refuge overlook last December. “We like to get the telescopes out and get the public to look at star clusters, planets, nebulae, and other astronomical objects,” said Astalos. He plans on hosting more activities focused on Jupiter and the stars of spring in the near future.

Astalos encourages any teacher of Pre-K to twelfth grade to email him if they are interested in bringing their class to the planetarium. He hopes to encourage interest in astronomy among younger audiences.

Another prominent development in the physics and astronomy program is the federal grant that the Adams State Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math program received in September. Part of the grant includes the renovation of the Zacheis planetarium; the current planetarium has the equipment and layout of the 1960s, with circular seats and an electromechanical star projector.

However, in July, there will be a month long renovation, and everything in the planetarium will be removed. There will be a smaller digital projector, and all of the seats will face in one direction. The planetarium will only be able to hold about 45 people as compared to the current 70, but the quality of the area will improve substantially. “It will be like going from only being able to see Earth to being able to see the galaxy. We won’t be stuck with just our view of the sky, but we will be able to see the solar system and the planets orbiting the sun,” said Astalos.

Additionally, the grant includes the construction of a new observatory on the north end of campus. The current observatory was built before the streetlights were installed that tower over the observatory walls causing light to flood the space and make the telescopes much less useful. The new location is more remote and dark, which is necessary for viewing the night sky. This project is two years away. PVC and cloth are being used as extensions to raise the walls until then.