Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Planetarium or Observatory?

Do you know the difference between the two? Maybe you have gone to a planetarium to watch a show about the stars, planets, and other objects in the universe. Perhaps you remember going to an observatory to actually look through a huge telescope or smaller ones to see objects in the night sky in real time.

A planetarium is a theater built primarily for presenting educational and entertaining shows about astronomy and the night sky or for training in celestial navigation. Astronomy is the study of those objects and celestial navigation is the position or where to find those objects to identify them in the night sky.

The dominant feature of most planetaria is the large dome-shaped projection screen at the top of the room onto which stars, planets, and other celestial objects can be made to appear and more realistically to simulate the complex motions of the heavens. These scenes can be created by using various technologies. For example there is the precision-engineered ‘star balls’ that combine optical and electro-mechanical technology, such as projectors, video, and fulldome systems and lasers. The technologies used are linked together to provide the most accurate motion of the sky. The display can depict the sky in the past or present as it would appear from any latitude on Earth.

An observatory is a location used for observing terrestrial or celestial events. Some of these disciplines would be astronomy, climatology, meteorology, geology, oceanography, and volcanology. The structure is designed to accommodate the discipline that it is studying. When I think of an observatory I think of one geared towards astronomy. This would contain an astronomical sextant and one large telescope for viewing. Some larger observatories may contain more than one telescope.

There are ground-based, radio, space, and ancient (such as Stonehenge) observatories. If you’ve never been to one and want to experience this firsthand, a planetarium is the best place to start. Some college planetariums are open to the public during certain months; usually on a Friday. Check their schedule for months, days, and times. There is usually a small fee to view and listen to the show. At some colleges, if the night sky is right for viewing, they may have a large mobile telescope they wheel outside. You may see the rings around Saturn and some of its moons for the first time or the hazy Andromeda Galaxy! Have you seen Mars? How about the great Orion Nebula? What would you like to see?  Get excited, go see what’s out there!  

Ref: Florida Astronomy, Orlando Science Center, Seminole Community College.   

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