Last month, the Ward Beecher Planetarium at Youngstown State University introduced two new shows — “Chasing the Ghost Particle” and “This is Our Sky” — and this weekend is the last chance to see them before the new fall sky shows begin.
The first new show, “Chasing the Ghost Particle,” will show two final times on Friday at 8 p.m., and again on Saturday at 8 p.m.
The show takes a closer look at the “ghost particle,” a neutrino, which is a weak subatomic particle about which scientists have been able to learn very little. Neutrinos have no charge, so they do not interact with electromagnetic forces on Earth, which makes them very elusive subjects.
Planetarium Lecturer Sharon Shanks said the show will be a good learning opportunity for students.
“Neutrinos have virtually no mass, so detecting them by their interactions with other particles is difficult,” Shanks said. “[People] will learn that neutrinos exist and we can detect them, with a lot of hard work and ingenuity, [and] that science is a very human endeavor and that we, as humans, have a chance to answer even the most difficult questions.”
The show was produced by the Wisconsin IceCube Particle Astrophysics Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who work with the IceCube Neutrino Observatory — a neutrino detector located at the South Pole. They also worked with the Milwaukee Public Museum for the show, which was in development for many years before it premiered last month.
Planetarium Engineer Curt Spivey was excited about the show coming to YSU.
“We’re always on the lookout for new content for the planetarium,” Spivey said.
Astronomy programs use and distribute planetarium shows as a means to make discoveries in astronomy accessible to researchers and laypeople alike.
“It’s a show we purchased from a planetarium in Milwaukee. They have a detector in the ice in Antarctica to detect neutrinos. We knew they were there before, but had no way to find them,” Spivey said.
Along with “Chasing the Ghost Particle,” another show entitled “This is Our Sky” will have its last presentations on Saturday at 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m.
The show was written and produced by the Ott Planetarium at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, and covers general elementary-level astronomy. The target age-range for the show is third grade, although Shanks said it can be fun for kids of all ages.
Shanks also hopes that “Chasing the Ghost Particle” will attract more YSU students.
“We do have many loyal regulars who attend, but none who are YSU students that I know of,” Shanks said. “It’s a shame. I would say that our most underserved audience is, indeed, YSU students. We’d like to know why. Do they not know we are here? Are we perceived to be ‘too childish’ for university students?”
Spivey said the turnout for the shows so far have averaged around 40 people, and encourages people to see the shows before it’s too late.
“We are free … It’s a good way to spend a cold day this weekend,” he said.
Each show includes a live sky talk, and each will be leaving the planetarium after this weekend to make room for upcoming Halloween shows.
For a complete list of planetarium shows and full schedule, visit www.wbplanetrium.org.