Morehead State University’s Star Theater has been ranked among the top 30 college planetariums by the website, Great Value Colleges.
In composing the ranking, the site considered four factors:
Is the facility a planetarium or an observatory? A planetarium is a simulation of the night sky, while an observatory uses telescopes to look at the actual sky at that moment. The Star Theater is both.
The types of telescopes and equipment used at the facility. The Star Theater projects full 180º x 360º real-time blended video and graphics on a 40-foot dome screen using six digital projectors and state-of-the-art surround sound.
Discoveries: The rankings also took into account the research being done at each facility. MSU’s Space Science Center is on the cutting edge of aerospace technology with extensive research and development of nanosatellite technology, satellite tracking and telemetry, spacecraft systems testing and more.
Visitor experience: The rankings considered whether or not facilities were open to the public and what types of shows are available. The Star Theater hosts public shows every Saturday with educational and entertainment programming for all audiences. Area schools can schedule field trips to the theater, and there are several educational programs educators can choose from to suit any age group. The theater also hosts special events for astronomical events such as solar eclipses, International Observe the Moon Night and others.
“Many people may not realize that our planetarium is primarily operated by students - mostly undergraduate students,” said Dr. Ben Malphrus, director of the MSU Space Science Center. “Operating the planetarium, providing sky tours and speaking to the public provides invaluable experiences for students in science and engineering fields. The quality of the shows and events that led to this award is a reflection of their excellent work.”
Shanil Virani, who took over as director of the Star Theater about a year ago, has made efforts to increase public awareness and outreach. He expanded public programming at the Star Theater from monthly shows to weekly shows, increased social media engagement, started a weekly segment called “Our Island Universe” that airs on Morehead State Public Radio and writes a monthly column in The Morehead News called “Kentucky Skies.” He said these efforts have paid off.
“Kentucky families lead busy lives and by providing more opportunities for families, particularly those with young children, to visit the Space Science Center we have seen significant growth in our attendance,” Virani said. “Our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages have nearly doubled since the fall and continue to grow. To me, it demonstrates the love and passion our community has not only for science and engineering but also for supporting the Space Science Center’s efforts to be a national model and leader in science education and community engagement.”
Looking to the future, Virani said he’d like to offer even more opportunities for young people to engage with the Star Theater, including more hands-on opportunities designed to inspire an interest in STEM fields. Some of his ideas include creating a series of summer exploration camps for children of different age groups and a monthly “Science Sunday” program specifically for girls who are interested in STEM.
“Many studies now demonstrate that if we are to get more and more young Americans interested in pursuing education and careers in STEM, we need to start early and provide many opportunities,” Virani said.
View the complete list of top college planetariums at www.greatvaluecolleges.net/best-college-planetariums-and-observatories-in-the-united-states.