MCC planetarium offers immersive experiences


By: Kian Hagerman

The Mesa Community College planetarium at the Southern and Dobson campus offers both students and educators a unique way to access information.

Part of the physical science building, the planetarium is a theater with a domed hemisphere roof that is used to depict the night sky as it appears in nature, and is primarily a tool to educate astronomy majors.

“Traditionally a planetarium is an astronomical theater, showing the motions of the sky. Showing different constellations, different stars and how they appear, how the sky changes over the course of the night or over the year,” said astronomy professor and MCC planetarium director Kevin Healy. “The beauty of our projection system in the MCC planetarium is that it’s fully digital. We can really put any digital media up on the dome.”

This potential allows other applications outside the field of astronomy for such a structure, and MCC instructors are working to utilize the space in new and interesting ways.

“It’s really a very powerful theater environment, with the entire ceiling being the screen,” Healy said.

Art History professor Lindsey Pedersen has used the planetarium to project the environments of famous places from the past.

“One of the things that’s really great about the planetarium is that, it gets it out of that two dimensional mode,” Pedersen said. “So many times we are talking about architecture, or works of art that you really experience better in person.”

There are plans to implement an interior model of the dome of the Roman Pantheon.

“The pantheon has a dome that’s a perfect hemisphere; they have a dome that’s a perfect hemisphere at the planetarium,” Pedersen said. “If you can mold those two together it gives you a much better experience of the space.”

The immersion the planetarium provides can be useful to instructors looking to approach material in different ways outside the traditional classroom environment.

“When you can get in front of art, or when you can see it in a new way or a new context it can help you understand it more,” Pedersen said.

These applications allow instructors from different disciplines to coordinate their efforts.

“We have some content that is cross discipline, which is not just traditionally astronomy. I have worked with some of the other MCC faculty to expand that cross discipline content,” Healy said.

Using the planetarium in unconventional ways can also serve to engage those outside of the MCC campus.

“It’s just another way to reach the larger community, but also a way to support instruction,” Pedersen said. “That’s the cool thing about the planetarium. It’s a community resource, but it’s also an instructional resource, not just for astronomy but for all these other disciplines as well.”

Astronomy nights are events open to public attendance during the fall and spring semesters, that give people an opportunity to experience the various ways the planetarium is being implemented on campus.

“During the fall semester typically four times, on the first Friday of the month we do public planetarium shows, typically every 30 minutes from 6 – 10 p.m.,” Healy said. “And then on the nights that are clear we also have a telescope or two set up just down the driveway to show off the planets, the moon, deep sky objects, nebulae and star clusters.”

This gives people the chance to have a guided, educated look at the sky from those in the field.

To find out more information about the planetarium and upcoming Astronomy Nights, visit http://www.mesacc.edu/planetarium.

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

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