By Tina Kalenits
With a record number of 20,000 visitors last year, the Ward Beecher Planetarium at Youngstown State University is launching its programs for the fall and spring semesters.
Patrick Durrell, professor of physics and astronomy and director of Ward Beecher Planetarium, said the staff is always trying to improve the experience at the planetarium.
“We had the record numbers last year, and they improved on the year before that, and it just shows a great interest in the planetarium, and it makes us want to strive harder to present new material,” he said.
Durrell said the planetarium staff aspires to shake things up.
“We don’t want to keep presenting the same old show. We don’t want to keep showing the same old thing,” Durrell said. “Astronomy is such a rapidly changing field. Every year there’s always new material we want to add because we have a new video system that allows us to display some of the discoveries going on in astronomy.”
Tiffany Stone Wolbrecht, the planetarium lecturer, said visitors can expect the return of many fan favorites, such as “Wizarding Weekend,” “Rock the Dome,” “Undiscovered Worlds” and “One World, One Sky.”
The public programs run from September 2019 through May 2020.
The planetarium has many new shows this year, including “One Day on Mars,” “The Sun, Our Living Star” and “Big Astronomy,” which will premiere in the spring semester of 2020.
Opening weekend was Sept. 13 and 14 and included the local band MoonStation Burning. This is the first year the planetarium has had a live band.
Wolbrecht said there has been a resurgence of interest in astronomy.
“Two years ago with the solar eclipse spanning our entire country and lots of exciting news in space travel that is interesting to the public, and your local planetarium is a good place to learn the latest information in astronomy,” she said.
Durrell said he is always looking to spread new information in science and share why those discoveries are essential to his students, colleagues and the community.
“I love talking to people about it. People who just want to learn about what’s going on in the universe,” Durrell said. “Every year we want to keep adding to that, what new shows are we doing, what’s the new topics and ideas to explore the universe.”
“The Lecture Series” will also make its return with live presentations from astronomers on Nov. 15 and March 20.
Durrell started the series four years ago to invite astronomers from outside the university.
He said visitors can see a lecture in the spring on exoplanets, which are planets that orbit other stars.
Curt Spivey, the planetarium engineer, said the staff works hard to provide entertainment and education.
“Our goal as a resource to the Mahoning Valley is to provide high-quality content, so you cannot only be entertained but learn something about space and astronomy,” Spivey said. “With the system we have, we can go outside those topics too. We have shows on evolution and climate change.”
The Ward Beecher Planetarium shows are free and open to the public.