by Max Marbut
Since 1968, one of the things that has drawn people Downtown is the Alexander Brest Planetarium at the Museum of Science & History on the Southbank. Last year 53,894 people attended one of several presentations offered at the Southbank museum on a daily basis.
Originally used exclusively for educational purposes, a few years later the “Cosmic Concert” debuted, opening up the resource to a completely new market looking for entertainment along with a little education.
Twenty years later, a new star projector was installed and the planetarium was enlarged and relocated. The dome is now on the second floor of the museum. Its 60-foot dome arches 37 feet above the floor and the auditorium’s 200 seats. There are only three other planetariums in Florida and the closest one with a 60-foot dome is in Baton Rouge, La.
The Cosmic Concerts are still popular, as are the daily “Tonight Show” presentations which allow viewers to get a look at what that night’s sky will look like over Jacksonville including the moon’s phase and the visible constellations.
Planetarium Educator Heather Smith has grown up at the museum and her interest in the planetarium and its programs has led her to an education and a career. She recalled the first time she went to MOSH and how that day changed her life.
“I came here one Saturday with my mom and I met one of the museum’s interns. I was just 14 years old but I knew right then I wanted to be an intern, too,” she said.
Her internship led to a job at the museum, but that’s not all. Smith is now a senior at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach when she’s not home in Jacksonville working in the planetarium. She’s majoring in space studies and in the Air Force ROTC program with hopes to one day be an astronaut.
“Space is what got me interested in learning,” she said.
The planetarium will go through another transition this fall when a new state-of-the-art, high-definition video projector with a custom lens system is installed under the dome.
The planetarium is an educational resource that’s able to fill an important niche, said MOSH Director of Development Sarah Wong. It creates an interest level in young people that can’t be duplicated in a formal classroom particularly when it comes to science education.
“Studies show that informal education environments achieve education gains, particularly among groups that are underrepresented in science education like minorities and females,” she said. “Being an educational institution we give children the opportunity to ask questions and discover the fun of learning.”
An enhancement for the museum’s mission has recently opened. It’s a new class area on the first floor and having the resource will allow an even sharper focus on sharing the joy of learning, said Wong.
“It’s a great space and it puts the kids close to our exhibit space. We’re very excited to have it ready for our summer camps this year,” she said.
As a way to promote interest in science and also help fund science education programming, MOSH is hosting “Moon Walk” April 23 from 6:30-9 p.m. In addition to a 1.5-mile stroll on the Southbank Riverwalk the planetarium and museum will be open and there will be telescopes set up on the roof for stargazing. Tickets are $25 for adults, $15 for children 6-17 years of age, five years and under are admitted free. MOSH members and teams of four or more walkers will receive a $5 discount per person.
“We hope Moon Walk will get kids and their parents excited about space,” said Wong.
For more information about MOSH and its programs and schedules or to register for Moon Walk, visit www.themosh.org.
Smith controls the sound and lights for planetarium shows from this central station.
MOSH Director of Development Sarah Wong in the museum’s new multipurpose classroom.
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