As a child, I’d sneak out after dark, lie on the prickly grass in our back yard, and gaze up at the heavens. Chicago’s street lights limited my stargazing to the major constellations: the Big Dipper, Little Dipper, Orion, and Scorpio, but I was delighted in my ignorance. I never imagined how many billions of stars were visible in the night sky until I made my first cross-country camping trip at the age of 18. In a remote campground far from city lights, I crawled from my tent after dark, peered up into the moonless sky, and was astonished to see a bright white arc painted across the sky. It was my first view of a Milky Way so choked with stars that it was impossible to identify individual constellations. I was hooked!
Astronomy still fascinates me, although these days I rarely have the opportunity to lie on my back in the middle of the night and count stars. Fortunately, I recently visited the Bishop Planetarium, which is part of the South Florida Museum in Bradenton, Florida. The planetarium’s 50-foot high dome theater is equipped with a $1-million state of the art digital projection system; one of only three systems of its kind in the world. I stepped into the darkened dome and groped my way up the steps to a plush theater seat with only seconds to spare before Live Star Talk began. As I reclined my seat for a better view, the dome was magically transformed into the Florida night sky and soon an astronomer was explaining how to identify the stars, planets and constellations visible from Bradenton.
In addition to Live Star Talk, the Planetarium offers a number of shows, including Two Small Pieces of Glass, which explains how the telescope has changed the way we look at our universe; Extreme Planets, which explores the fairly recent discovery of planets orbiting other stars in our Milky Way; and The Ultimate Universe, a stunning 80-quadrillion mile virtual journey through the solar system.
Bishop Planetarium is located at 201 10th St. West in Bradenton. Show times are: 1:15 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday; 1:15 and 8:15 Friday and Saturday; and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $15.95 for adults, $13.95 for seniors (60+), $11.95 for children 4-12, and free for children under 4, and includes entry into the South Florida Museum and the Parker Manatee Aquarium as well as the Planetarium.
Photos courtesy of South Florida Museum
Article by Barbara Weibel of Hole In The Donut Travels