Partner Highlight: Through Hardship, Haile Planetarium Continues

Christa Speights, Planetarium Director
Northern Kentucky University Haile Planetarium logo

Haile Planetarium is a 61 seat, 30 foot planetarium that is part of Northern Kentucky University. In recent years, we have had about 10,000 visitors per year. One recent expansion that has helped us grow is the NISE Network's Explore Science: Earth & Space 2019 toolkit. This is helping us get through our largest obstacle yet. In November 2019 our old equipment failed permanently, and we had to close the planetarium. We expect to reopen when we are able to replace the equipment. But because of the NISE Network, until we reopen, we are able to continue doing astronomy outreach in the greater Cincinnati area.

We have a partnership with a local state park where we bring telescopes and look at the sun during the day and moon, stars, and planets at night. On clear days, we like to have several methods of viewing the sun, including the Observe the Sun solarscope. Since we rarely catch the sun when there are sunspots, my personal favorite with the solarscope is to watch the Earth rotate. Within a few seconds, you can see the sun’s projection move appreciably in the solarscope. One day when I was at an outreach event waiting for people to walk by, I realized that you could calculate the length of a day if you carefully measure the time it takes the sun to move its own diameter. Some college students stopped by, and we measured it together. It’s harder than I thought to measure the sun’s motion. With our rough equipment, we calculated that the day is 25, 23, and 26 hours long – pretty good for the simple tools we had. In the future I want to try it with graph paper to more easily measure the sun’s motion. I told the astronomy lab coordinator, and we are considering adapting this activity for introductory college astronomy labs.

In the past we have only been able to do this state park outreach on clear days. But now that we have the NISE network 2019 toolkit, we can conduct astronomy outreach even on cloudy days. On cloudy days, we’ve done the Filtered Light and Pocket Solar System activities. We love having a toolkit with activities all set to go, knowing that all the material is there, and that the activities are appropriate for the age group.

The planetarium broke when we still had school groups scheduled for field trips. We were able to serve them by doing a multitude of NISE network activities: Pocket Solar System, Hide and Seek Moon, Expanding Universe, Static Electricity, and Big Sun, Small Moon. My favorite experience was getting to share astronomy using the tactile sheets and books that came with the 2019 toolkit. We had a visually impaired elementary student visit. He was excited to be able to experience astronomy for himself and left very happy.

Before I had NISE Network activities, when invited to do an outreach event, I would put together an activity, and they wouldn’t always work very well. Now I can be certain of a successful outreach activity wherever I go, thanks to the NISE Net's Explore Science: Earth & Space toolkits. In the interim in which the planetarium is closed, we are planning on doing more astronomy outreach in the community, at schools and other community centers. Both the 2019 toolkit and the 2020 toolkit will be quite helpful in that.

If you'd like to learn more about the Haile Planetarium, please contact Christa Speights, Planetarium Director, at [email protected]