The Peril of Hyped Astro Headlines

I love the night sky, especially what’s visible with the unaided eye, and I love sharing that enthusisasm, whether it’s behind the controls of the Hatter Planetarium or way back in my days as a summer camp naturalist. But we suffer from swarms of overhyped headlines about sky sights. I am not talking about the outright social media fakes (“Mars will be as big as the moon,” etc.), but instead substantially correct information that may earn clicks but inevitably disappoints under the real sky.

Here’s one from this week, from a well-regarded media source: “A full moon, lunar eclipse and comet all in one night?” That sounds flippin’ amazing!! So let’s break it down:

Full moon and lunar eclipse. As you may know, this is no coincidence. A lunar eclipse can only occur at the full moon, just as a solar eclipse can only occur at the phase of new moon. That’s how the geometry works. Even reading the full text of the particular article above does not reveal that fact.

What kind of eclipse? This one is penumbral, meaning that the moon only enters the earth’s outer shadow. At no time is the sun completely blocked out from the moon’s point of view. Observant people will see a dimming on one side of the moon. Read a quality article here. If that’s what you expect, you’ll be happy you looked. Next total eclipse of the moon completely visible from Gettysburg? January 21, 2019.

Comet 45P. At seventh magnitude, it’s not visible to the unaided eye. In binoculars, it will look like a faint, green smudge, assuming you know exactly where to point the binocs. And as the Sky and Telescope article in that link makes clear, it is not a very easy object, and the light from the afforementioned moon will make matters worse.  The good news is it’s not a one-night proposition. So if you’re up for the callenge, here’s that link again. But the bottom line is it’s something hard to see, not a “grab the kids” moment.


Accepting Field Trip Requests

After a semester of learning the ropes on our new system, we are happy to continue our practice of offerering free field trips to school and community groups on an as-available basis. Just fill out the form here to get the process started.

Due to the fact that the planetarium is now a working classroom, school-day visits will be limited to Thursdays. Evenings and weekends are somewhat more flexible. Our season ends in May, so we look forward to hearing from you soon!

Spring 2017 Schedule of Public Shows

Happy New Year! Below is our schedule of free, public shows for the spring academic semster. As regulars know, the “Sky this Month” shows are live planetarium talks presented by our director. They include a tour of the current night sky and discussion of recent astronomy news and related concepts. The other shows are recorded full-dome presentations from top producers of planetarium media. (Except the April 23rd show – we’ll be producing that one ourselves. Stay tuned.) These recorded shows will be preceded by a brief live tour of the current night sky via our Spitz SciDome projector. All the shows will last approximately 40 minutes. The Hatter Planetarium is located on the first floor of Masters Hall on the Gettysburg College campus. First-come, first-seated. The doors close when the show begins.

You can also see an updating calendar of our upcoming events on our web site.

Hatter Planetarium Schedule

Spring 2017

Sunday, January 29

  • The Sky this Month
    • 3:00 PM
    • 4:00 PM

Sunday, February  12

Sunday, March 5

  • The Sky this Month
    • 3:00 PM
    • 4:00 PM

Sunday, March 26

Sunday, April 2

  • The Sky this Month
    • 3:00 PM
    • 4:00 PM

Sunday, April 23

  • Full-dome show TBA (a Hatter Planetarium original production)
    • 3:00 PM
    • 4:00 PM

Sunday, May 7

  • The Sky this Month
    • 3:00 PM
    • 4:00 PM


The Sky This Month: December 2016


Stop by the Hatter Planetarium for our final public show of 2016: 2:30 and 4:00 PM on Sunday, December 4. Show topics will the winter solstice, a tour of the December skies, and recent astronomy news.

The Hatter Planetarium is located on the first floor of Masters Hall. The show is free and the public is welcome. First-come, first-seated; the doors close when the show begins.

Upcoming in November and December

It may not show on the vents calendar just yet, but here’s what’s ahead:

“Oasis in Space” (full dome video), preceded by a live sky show
Sunday, November 20, 2:30 and 4:00 PM

“The Sky this Month: December”
Sunday, December 4, 2:30 and 4:00 PM

The shows are free and all are welcome. First-come, first seated. Doors close when the show begins.

New Student Assistants

students A very enthusiastic welcome to new student assistants Francesca Costa, ’19, and Avery German, ’20. Fran is a Classics major who brings outreach experience from the New York Historical Society, the Guggenheim Museum, and a zoo. She has also completed both semesters of introductory astronomy at Gettysburg College. Avery is a Physics major who has worked as a Peer Learning Associate in the department. He has also completed an internship at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. The are currently training to use the tools of our new planetarium and will soon be helping us offer field trip opportunities to school and community groups. Everybody who works in the Hatter Planetarium, director included, does so part-time. Therefore student help has always been an integral part of allowing us to do what we do, and with these two impressive additions, we every reason to expect this to only increase in the future.

The Sky This Month: November

Sunday, Nov. 6
2:30 & 4:00 PM

Visit our immersive, full-dome digital theater for a guided tour of the current night sky and a review of recent astronomy news. Topics this month will include constellations with a “watery” theme, astronomical Halloween, and the upcoming so-called “supermoon.” This free program is a live presentation given by Hatter Planetarium director, Ian Clarke.

The Hatter Planetarium is located on the first floor of Masters Hall. The show is free and the public is welcome. First-come, first-seated; the doors close when the show begins.

Blast from the Past on October 23!


Here’s what we’re working on next:


“Invitation to Stargazing”
October 23, 1:00, 2:30, and 4:00 PM

“Invitation to Stargazing” is a planetarium show written and delivered in September of 1975 by Professor (now Professor Emeritus) Laurence Marschall. Earlier this fall Dr. Marschall kindly recorded his original script for us, and we are preparing a modern digital planetarium presentation to accompany his words from the past. You’ll hear about timeless star lore as well as the vistas of solar system science that were just beginning to be opened by the space probes of the 70s.

The Hatter Planetarium is located on the first floor of Masters Hall. The show is free and the public is welcome. First-come, first-seated; the doors close when the show begins.

No Reservations

Many, many thanks to Kristi Waybright, who took reservations for our first few public shows after our renovation. Having watched our attendance numbers, we’ve decided that system is not needed any longer. Therefore, starting with our October 23 shows, we will revert to our first-come, first-seated policy. Doors will open approximately 20 minutes before show time, and we will continue seating until the 40 seats are filled.