Hatter Planetarium Fall 2020 Plans

The video above announces our plans to offer virtual planetarium programming for the Fall 2020 semester. Back in March when the college moved to online teaching, we assumed that the resumption of in-person classes would mean we could also restart public planetarium shows. That idea proved a bit simplistic. On August 17, the college will resume in-person classes under some strict guidelines, but public programs in a space like the planetarium will have to wait.

Here’s what the Hatter Planetarium will be doing. First, we will continue to support the astronomy curriculum in person with reduced seating cpacity. Our public outreach, however, will be all online. Planetarium director Ian Clarke will be helped by returning student assistants, James, Meg, and Garrett. We plan to publish virtual shows twice a month; the video above showcases the technology we’ll use. We’ll increase our social media presence through this blog, twitter, and instagram. Feel free to tell us topics you’d like to hear about! We are also working on a free virtual field trip experience to offer to local schools and community groups, which a local teacher will help us test. We are not ready to open the field trip request form yet, but we’ll announce that as soon as we can. Finally, if time allows, we will work on developing new shows for the day when we can physically reopen to the public. When will that be? We hesitate to guess, but we will be excited to announce that as soon as we can.

Comet SWAN Dive?

Here’s what I wrote about Comet SWAN for the Gettysburg Times about a week ago:

Current models for Comet SWAN show that it will reach a peak brightness of magnitude 2.8 on May 21. That’s pretty close to the same brightness as the faintest two stars in the Big Dipper, but since a comet is a hazy, diffuse source instead of a starlike point, it will be harder to see. For another comparison, that’s about 30 times fainter than the great Comet Hale-Bopp of 1997. While it may be visible without optical aid, you will probably want binoculars to find it, at least at first.

Since then the bad news has come that the comet brightened much less than predicted. “Yet another fizzler,” says Alan MacRobert of Sky and Telescope. It’s currently an underwhelming magnitude 6, and since each magnitude is 2.5 times brighter than the last, that’s almost 19X fainter than the peak prediction of 2.8. Too bad.

But why are comets so unpredictable? Sometimes described as “dirty snowballs,” these icy objects are leftovers from the formation of the solar system. Many orbit the sun slowly far out beyond the orbit of Neptune. Some come into the inner solar system on one-time trips; others are gravitationally captured here in recurring orbits, such as Halley’s Comet. As these icy bodies approach the sun they warm up under the influence of solar wind and solar radiation and release gas and dust that may form a hazy coma and tail. That outgassing material is what we see when we spot a comet in the sky and also what makes their appearance so hard to predict. The brightness depends on volatile processes that take place as the comet warms up, and as we’ve seen with Comet ATLAS, that can even include disintegration.

The next comet to get our hopes up is Comet NEOWISE, which has the potential to reach naked-eye visibility in July. In the meantime, here’s a song named after a famous cometary dissapointment of the 1970s.

Planetarium Closed

As many will know, Gettysburg College has suspended its residential program and moved its classes online for the rest of the semester, which ends in May. For as long as that closure remains in effect, the Hatter Planetarium will not be offering any public or private programs. I will be reaching out to any teachers and group leaders who have shows scheduled. Once I get my online teaching figured out, I hope to post some astronomy content on instagram and twitter during this hiatus, as well as working on show development for when we can reopen. Keep looking up!

–Ian Clarke, Hatter Planetarium Director

Astro Afternoons March 1 and 22

Here’s the planned show line-up for our March Astro-Afternoons on March 1 and 22:

  • 1:00 The Sky this Month LIVE (~45 min)
  • 2:00 “Distant Worlds, Alien Life?” (originally “Ferne Welten – fremdes Leben?”, a joint production by the planetariums in Münster, Bochum, Kiel, Mannheim, Osnabrück und Wolfsburg, produced at LWL-Planetarium Münster, 52 min)
  • 3:00 “Quandaries of the Cosmos” (a Hatter Planetarium original production, 30 min)
  • 4:00 The Sky this Month LIVE (~45 min)

This edition of “The Sky this Month” will include sky highlights for March, a new version of Voyager 1’s famous “pale blue dot” image, and an update on Betelgeuse. The Hatter Planetarium is located in Masters Hall, Room 115, on the Gettysburg College Campus. Shows are free and all are welcome as seats remain. No admittance while a show is running. Full schedule is avalable here.

Astro Afternoon Feb 16

  • 1:00 The Sky this Month LIVE (~40 min)
  • 2:00 “From Earth to the Universe” (Produced by Theofanis Matsopoulos & European Southern Observatory, 30 min, suggested for ages 8+)
  • 3:00 “Gettysburgians Talk about Time” (a Hatter Planetarium original production, 50 min)
  • 4:00 The Sky this Month LIVE (~40 min)

This edition of “The Sky this Month” will include sky highlights for 2020 and the recent dimming of the star Betelgeuse. The Hatter Planetarium is located in Masters Hall, Room 115, on the Gettysburg College Campus. Shows are free and all are welcome as seats remain. No admittance while a show is running. Full schedule is avalable here.

Astro Afternoon Lineup for Jan 26

  • 1:00 The Sky this Month LIVE (~45 min)
  • 2:00 “Two Small Pieces of Glass” (good elementary to middle school show, 30 min)
  • 3:00 “Gettysburgians Talk about Time” (a Hatter Planetarium original production, 50 min)
  • 4:00 The Sky this Month LIVE (~45 min)

This edition of “The Sky this Month” will include sky highlights for 2020 and the recent dimming of the star Betelgeuse. The Hatter Planetarium is located in Masters Hall, Room 115, on the Gettysburg College Campus. Shows are free and all are welcome as seats remain. No admittance while a show is running. Full schedule is avalable here.

Spring 2020 Public Show Schedule

January 26 1:00, 2:00, 3:00, 4:00 Astro-Afternoon
January 30 12:00 Noon The Sky this Month
February 14 7:00 PM Stargazing: a Valentine’s Date Night
February 16 1:00, 2:00, 3:00, 4:00 Astro-Afternoon
March 1 1:00, 2:00, 3:00, 4:00 Astro-Afternoon
March 5 12:00 Noon The Sky this Month
March 22 1:00, 2:00, 3:00, 4:00 Astro-Afternoon
April 2 12:00 Noon The Sky this Month
April 5 1:00, 2:00, 3:00, 4:00 Astro-Afternoon
April 26 1:00, 2:00, 3:00, 4:00 Astro-Afternoon
April 30 12:00 Noon The Sky this Month

We are looking forward to a full spring semester of free shows at the Hatter Planetarium. First up, Astro-Afternoon on Sunday, January 26. Here are some further details of what to expect:

Typical ASTRO AFTERNOON Schedule

  • 1:00 The Sky this Month LIVE
  • 2:00 Recorded Show (e.g., “Oasis in Space”)
  • 3:00 Recorded Show
  • 4:00 The Sky this Month LIVE

Between shows we will play astronomy-related podcasts in the dome. Check our website for titles of the 2:00 and 3:00 shows as dates approach.

“The Sky this Month” is a timely live presentation on upcoming celestial events and astronomy news. Repeated presentations of this program in the same month will include minor updates for sky position on the current date but otherwise will be substantially the same. Breaking astronomy news will be held for the next month’s show.

The Hatter Planetarium is located in Masters Hall, Room 115, on the Gettysburg College Campus. Shows are free and all are welcome as seats remain. No admittance while a show is running.

The schedule is also available via the College’s events calendar and as a PDF.

Astro Afternoons Dec 1 and 15

Join us for an “Astro Afternoon” of planetarium shows. Come for as many shows as you choose. The lineup for both Dec 1 & 15 is as follows:

  • 1:00 The Sky this Month LIVE (~45 min)
  • 2:00 “Distant Worlds, Alien Life?” (originally “Ferne Welten – fremdes Leben?”, a joint production by the planetariums in Münster, Bochum, Kiel, Mannheim, Osnabrück und Wolfsburg, produced at LWL-Planetarium Münster, 52 min)
  • 3:00 “Constellations across the Cultures” (a Hatter Planetarium original production, 31 min)
  • 4:00 The Sky this Month LIVE (~45 min)

Between shows we will play astronomy-related podcasts in the dome. The Hatter Planetarium is located in Masters Hall, Room 115, on the Gettysburg College Campus. Shows are free and all are welcome as seats remain. No admittance while a show is running.

Astro Afternoon Sunday Nov. 3

Join us for an “Astro Afternoon” of planetarium shows. Come for as many shows as you choose. The lineup for Nov. 3 is as follows:

  • 1:00 The Sky this Month LIVE (~45 min)
  • 2:00 “Quandaries of the Cosmos” (a Hatter Planetarium original production, 30 min)
  • 3:00 Oasis in Space (good show for elementary ages, 30 min)
  • 4:00 The Sky this Month LIVE (~45 min)

Between shows we will play astronomy-related podcasts in the dome and set up a solar telescope outside if the sky is clear. The Hatter Planetarium is located in Masters Hall, Room 115, on the Gettysburg College Campus. Shows are free and all are welcome as seats remain. No admittance while a show is running.