MCC planetarium Astonomy Nights teach about the stars

Christian Jensen
Mesa Legend

Astronomy Nights at Mesa Community College are back. Every first Friday of the month, MCC hosts “Astronomy Nights” in their state-of-the-art Planetarium located on the southwest side of the campus next to the Physical Science building. Once a month, MCC opens its Planetarium to the public for an incredible show. If the weather permits it, there is a telescope viewing as well.

Mesa Community College planitarium
Photo by Tania Ritko

The price of the show is completely free.  The first show starts at 6 p.m., but be sure to get there a bit early to avoid having trouble getting tickets to a desired show time.  Tickets are given on a first-come first-serve basis. Shows usually run about 30 minutes each, and the final show ends at 10 p.m..   It is possible to schedule a private viewing by visiting the “Planetarium Scheduling” page on the Mesa Community College website. However, they do encourage groups of 20 or larger in order to fill the planetarium, which can seat up to 52 people at one time.  The next show, named “Sky Fall,” will run Oct. 2. After that, “Secrets of the Sun” runs Nov. 6, and finally, “Tour the Universe with Pink Floyd” runs Dec. 4.

“The planetarium opened in 2008 along with the grand opening of the Physical Science building. It was intended to provide a state-of-the-art educational resource for our students and the general public that is generally not accessible and is one of only four similar resources in Arizona,” said Melissa Bunte, an Astronomy faculty member whose role is often to manage visitors to the show and to operate the telescopes for the night sky viewings.  When asked about the technology behind the Planetarium Bunte said, “Our Planetarium runs an Evans & Sutherland Digistar 3 digital theater with dual high definition projectors and audio.  Each digitally mastered show that we purchase can cost several thousand dollars, so donations are always welcome.”

The department currently has more than a dozen shows in their repertoire. Bunte states, “Several are Digistar products and several were designed by our Planetarium Director Dr. Kevin Healy.” Healy is currently on sabbatical leave and working hard on a few new shows.   Priyanjoli Mukherjee, who answers questions while shows are running, temporarily takes the position of Planetarium Director.  Now, the most requested show is by far “Tour the Universe with Pink Floyd” which was actually designed and created by MCC students.  The show uses a compilation of songs from Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, their most popular album. This show returns in December, so mark those calendars.

“My personal favorite is ‘New Horizons: Tour Through the Solar System’. Several of our shows were designed around newly released spacecraft data from the New Horizons and Rosetta missions to Pluto and Comet 67/p, respectively,” said Bunte. “These shows will be updated as the results from the missions are released.”

Mason Davis, a student at ASU said he plans to attend some of the shows. “I didn’t even know MCC had a planetarium but I’ll be attending some shows. I’ll definitely be at the Pink Floyd show in December,” he said.
As mentioned before, “Pink Floyd’s Tour of the Universe” is their most requested show.
“Nothing goes better with Pink Floyd than a Planetarium show,” Davis said.

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These are archived stories from Mesa Legend editions before Fall 2018. See article for corresponding author.

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