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planetarium show

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The strobe and projector before the show in the Emil C. Miller Planetarium.

The strobe and projector before the show in the Emil C. Miller Planetarium.

Emma Busch (‘19) | Chips

Emma Busch (‘19) | Chips

The strobe and projector before the show in the Emil C. Miller Planetarium.

Emma Busch, Staff Writer

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Lights dimmed slowly to reveal the night sky as 31 Luther students sunk into their seats and gazed upward at the constellations above them in anticipation of the first of two star shows that were held on Thursday in the Emil C. Miller Planetarium.

Installed in the Valders Hall of Science in 1964, the planetarium was named after Miller in 1998 to honor his time in the physics department and his role in bringing the planetarium to campus.

According to planetarium student worker Christen Foster (‘18), the planetarium holds great importance to her, but many others in the Luther community do not realize it exists. This is why staff hold open shows.

“We have this great resource here at Luther College and when I was a prospective student I actually got to come in and be in the planetarium,” Foster said. “That was one of the many reasons why I chose to come to Luther. The fact that so many people don’t realize that this is open and free to students, staff, and community has been one of my inspiring factors to really start advertising.”

Foster led both star shows and began by pointing out the blacklight paintings on the walls of the planetarium before turning off the lights completely.

“I like to tell kids that we sent a painter up there and we go up and collect his work every once in a while,” Foster said during the show.

The planetarium was nearly engulfed in complete darkness when two more attendees entered the space. Foster instructed them to stay by the door and led them to their seats. Audience members across the room checked their phones but quickly learned that the brightness was too much for their eyes. Others laughed as Foster gently advised everyone to avoid checking their phones for the rest of the show.

Emma Busch (‘19) | Chips
This strobe and projector is used to project the stars that are in the sky onto the domed ceiling.

Foster continued the show by pointing out the five constellations visible from Decorah at all times during the year, starting with the Big Dipper. In addition to pointing out the constellations displayed on the domed ceiling with a laser pointer, Foster also projected illustrations so audience members could easily make connections between the stars.

The Big Dipper is inside the constellation Ursa Major and nearby is Ursa Minor, or the “mama bear and her cub,” as Foster explained to the audience. Foster proceeded to ask if it was smart to separate a mother bear from her cub, to which most of the audience responded “no.” However, the dragon constellation Draco does just that because it is composed of stars between the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper.

The final two constellations visible year-round in Decorah are Cassiopeia and Cepheus. Foster explained that Cassiopeia was a farmer before she met her husband, Cepheus, who gave up his title in order to marry her. Cassiopeia, a “W in the sky,” always looks out at her husband, whose discarded crown is visible across the sky from both constellations.

Foster rotated the sky to show more constellations, including Gemini, Taurus, and Delphinus, a constellation she jokingly invited to write a story about since it does not have a backstory.

“It’s just a dolphin, but if you write me a story and stick it under the planetarium door, I will tell it as if it’s the truth,” Foster said. “We can vote on the best one.”

Next was Andromeda, Cepheus and Cassiopeia’s daughter, who was abducted by a king and rescued by Cepheis and his horse Pegasus. Orion’s Belt followed and as Foster explained the constellation’s backstory, she accidentally swore, a slip-up met with laughter by the audience as Foster apologized profusely.

Before ending the show, Foster pointed out Leo and the stars that make up the Winter Triangle. Foster explained that the Winter Triangle is actually composed of the stars Procyon, Betelgeuse, and Sirius but she tells younger audiences it is made of stars with names from Harry Potter — including Regulus and Sirius Black and Bellatrix Lestrange — instead so they can remember it better.

According to attendee Abby Tefft (‘21) the star show was her first experience in the planetarium and she was surprised by the size of the space and what she learned.

“I actually didn’t know there was a planetarium on campus until I saw a sign outside,” Tefft said. “I wanted to see it and experience it but didn’t expect it to be like this at all. I expected a much larger space. I was really interested to see my own star sign, [Gemini], which I ended up seeing.”

Attendee Brooke Prohaska (‘21) was similarly intrigued by the show and plans on applying what she learned during the show when she goes stargazing.

“I really liked learning all the different constellations that I’ll be able to find myself in the real sky,” Prohaska said. “It’ll be really fun to go outside, look up, and go ‘Oh, those are the stars I learned about.’” 

As the lights slowly came back on, Foster encouraged audience members to come back and hold events under the night sky indoors, an experience that can only be replicated on campus in Luther’s own planetarium.

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