The Del and Norma Robison Planetarium, which began its third year open on Truman State University’s campus, continues to offer students and the community a wide variety of new programs and events while also focusing on making itself more known to Kirksville and its residents.
Committee Chair Jared Young says several new events begin during the end of February and the start of March, including the debut of the planetarium’s newest Saturday show “Dark Matter,” which talks about the theory of dark matter as it exists in the universe. The show started Feb. 25, Young says.
The planetarium will celebrate the birthday of one of its patrons, Del Robison, with free shows all day Wednesday, March 22.
Young says the planetarium will also show movies hosted by the Agriculture Science Department and the Multicultural Affairs Center, which plan to show the movie “Hidden Figures” March 21. The planetarium will host various free shows, Young says, through this semester and early next semester as a way to highlight the solar eclipse Aug. 21. For a full list of shows and events, visit planetarium.truman.edu.
Young says the planetarium is capable of many functions. Young says he likes to reference the BBC show “Doctor Who” because the planetarium is very much like a TARDIS in that it can travel through space and time. Young says the computer software Digistar 4 can also enable travel through most places in the Milky Way Galaxy. Young says guests can view planets, moons, stars, comets and asteroids. Going one step further, Young says the software can also allow people to land on the surface of the objects being viewed, or people can choose any location to go to on planet Earth, like Kirksville, and the sky of that location will appear on the inside of the planetarium.
Construction on the planetarium began in 2005 and was completed in 2014, Young sai. He said they’re still looking to establish the planetarium more within the community.
“[Because] the structure has existed for a long time, people got used to it being here but not used to it being open,” Young says. “The planetarium being open is still a relatively new thing. We still get people who walk by our door and come in and say, ‘Ah! I didn’t know this place was open!’ And it’s been open for two years. So we’re continuing to work on advertising and outreach to make more people aware. I think a lot of the schools in the surrounding area are aware just because they’ve used it for field trips and things like that.”
Young says the past two years taught the planetarium committee how to run the planetarium more efficiently. By simply asking questions and trying out features in the software, Young says this has helped himself, student workers and the committee learn more about what they can do in the planetarium. Young says the planetarium committee has also recently learned how to run a simulation that displays the future view of the upcoming solar eclipse.
After seeing what the planetarium could do and hiring student workers, Young says he knew he wanted to create a hub for liberal arts education or liberal arts outreach on campus. Students don’t need a math or physics degree, Young says, to be able to benefit and grow with the planetarium. Young says the planetarium should be a place where Truman students can come learn. Another focus that is equally important, Young says, is also being able to reach out into the community to schools and groups and provide an opportunity for them to look at the stars, listen to poetry or come and learn something new.
“To Truman students … the first part is that it’s something else to do,” Young says. “It’s another event, something you can go to. It’s also an educational venue. It’s a venue that can run shows on its own about the star[s], about the universe, about discoveries, get people excited about space, excited about exploration, become curious about the world around them. But it’s also a venue that can be used by almost anyone else that has an event or a guest speaker or something that they wanna do. So there’s great value in having something like that as an asset to Truman. The other big part of it is the community outreach. Community members have a reason to come to Truman. There are lots of reasons for community members to come to Truman, but the planetarium specifically is another way we can reach out to the community and connect.”
Although Truman will experience numerous budget cuts soon, Young says the planetarium shouldn’t be affected because it relies on patron support. Young says the basic upkeep and maintenance of the building is relatively minimal and the Information Technology Services and Physical Plant can be called to look at things excluding software, hardware and the facility. The planetarium isn’t self-sufficient, Young says, but it won’t accumulate any added costs or losses.
Another member of the planetarium committee is Charles Hunsaker, Truman’s director of development. A good portion of the funding for the planetarium, Hunsaker says, came through his and the Office of Advancement’s work in reaching out to alumni and friends to provide financial resources for the planetarium. Hunsaker says while he doesn’t work on the committee daily, he does function more as a group to help guide the purpose of the planetarium, as well as work on its policies, procedures, funding and upkeep.
In terms of the popularity of the planetarium between students and the community, Hunsaker says the planetarium still has room to grow, which will come down to marketing efforts. Trying to make sure people know about the shows that are happening, Hunsaker says, while ensuring the planetarium is selling the shows in an appealing way is important to bringing people in. Hunsaker says he thinks once people attend and experience a show they will want to return. Hunsaker says the planetarium is also focused on trying to let the general public know its shows are not just for students but for them too, which can be a struggle.
The planetarium is also supported on a donor system, Hunsaker says, with the number of donors varying each year. Hunsaker says there’s a donor wall outside the entrance to the planetarium that lists the donors. A lot of that donor money, Hunsaker says, went into supplying seating, the dome and the projector. There is also a group that helps supply programming funds, Hunsaker says. Although the group isn’t large, Hunsaker says they’re looking into creating a “Friends of the Planetarium” program that will allow more people to donate each year.