Wesleyan’s astronomy department has had a pair of old Starlab inflatable planetariums for many years, but in 2019 we added a new digital planetarium to our arsenal… which we used for only one semester before the pandemic hit and packing dozens of children into close proximity in a little bubble of air started to seem like not such a great idea for a while. This year, thanks to data on air exchange rates in inflatable planetariums from colleagues in the UK, along with an awesome level of cooperation from our community on wearing masks in the planetarium environment, we were finally able to bring back planetarium presentations for our Middletown community!
This semester we opened the planetarium for several events: a Scout group visit to the observatory, two days’ worth of expeditions to Macdonough School, a planetarium night at the local public library, and one more school visit. Students in our Astronomical Pedagogy seminar worked all semester to learn how to use the planetarium equipment, to understand developmental expectations and educational standards for children of different ages, to think about the role of storytelling in science communication, and to practice and give each other feedback on their presentations. The results were awesome! Kids in grades K-5 learned about gravity, seasons, the day/night cycle, Morse code, and so much more — our students were pros at getting the kids excited to learn more about space.