Thursday, February 25, 2010

Exploring the skies at the Mayo Planetarium

One of our homeschool groups from the county decided to schedule a visit to the Rochester Public Schools' planetarium at Mayo High School this morning. We had such a great time. It was an incredible show! Narrated by the staff member, it began with an engaging explanation of the most common constellations. It was interesting to have him explain to the kids why the sky and its contents move. A common and repeated theme was chimed by the audience when prompted: "Planets look like stars but act like the moon." The staff member explained why the sky changes.

Stars, while not maintaining their exact location, appear to stay stagnant day after day. Only when comparisons are made of the night sky after a bit of time has passed, will the change be noticeable. The planets were then examined and they learned that major differences can be seen in just one twenty four hour period. We pretended to have a planetarium pajama party and noticed that the night sky moves as well--if we go inside to play some games, when we come back out, we will see that the sky has shifted over us.

The earth, moving at 1,000 miles per hour cannot be felt because the movement is smooth. We cannot see the moon move above us, despite its 2,000 mile per hour rotation, because of its distance from the earth. We watched a very cool artist rendition of moving to the edge of the solar system...and we thought poor de-planetized Pluto was it. We saw the irregular orbits of the dwarf planets and asteroids. On the very edge, we discovered ice bergs swallowed us. Our own sun began looking like a distant star twinkling in the night sky. I am totally ashamed to admit that I was unaware additional dwarf planets Ceres and Eris--guess this and my memories of when Pluto was a planet dates me. We "zoomed" back towards earth and discussed the planets, Saturn and its spectacular rings, twins Neptune and Uranus made out of frozen gases, Mars with its enormous volcanoes--the largest which would be as big as Minnesota!

The Rochester planetarium has public shows that are available through the Rochester Community Education site. There are some wonderful sites both Cornell University and Nasa have some interesting information. This made me miss the planetarium in Minneapolis that was a top the old Minneapolis Public Library. It is supposed to be rebuilt on top of the new library; -it is tentatively planned to open again for 2013.

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