Barlow Planetarium brings holiday shows to campus
By Jenna Johnstone
photo by Tommy Yang
The Barlow Planetarium offers four holiday themed shows
this season, as well as ongoing educational
opportunities for area students.
The Barlow Planetarium offered holiday-themed shows starting Nov. 23 and ending Jan. 4.
The seasonal shows explore the galaxy and celebrate the holiday season. Shows include Paradigm Shifts, Perseus and Andromeda, Laser Holiday and 'Tis the Season.
"The Barlow's mission is to share the wonders of the universe. Each new show lets the Barlow do that a little more," planetarium director Alan Peche said.
The Barlow Planetarium opened to the public March 1998 as Wisconsin's first major planetarium.
The Planetarium offers public events, private events, field trips, classes, star shows, laser shows and a yearly membership. The venue features a 48-foot projection dome, three-dimensional effects and keypads at every seat so audience members can interact with shows.
The Planetarium held a member's only preview night Nov. 19 allowing members and guests to view all four holiday shows early.
Audience members were excited to learn of astronomical history points, and left with holiday cheer.
"Paradigm Shift was really cool, so was the roller coaster. The lasers really stood out in the show," planetarium member Tom Jorgenson said.
"The shows tonight were very, very good," spectator Joan Lloyd said.
"'Tis the Season was wonderful. I like the idea reviewing the 2,000 plus years of history and tradition. It doesn't have to be just Christianity, so really I think it's a unifying story."
'Tis the Season received a positive response from others as well.
"It gets you in the holiday spirit, the season of the lights. 'Tis the Season, it's amazing how it's coming closer to what I think the real Christmas story is," Jorgenson said.
The Barlow Planetarium staff agree 'Tis the Season is a favorite.
"‘Tis the Season,[the show] we're running right now is my favorite show we do. It talks about all the traditions, and where they come from and astronomy," presenter and self-described "planetarian" Ty Westbrook said.
"'Tis the Season is a sentimental favorite," Peche said.
The shows are only here for a limited time, so people are encouraged to see them as soon as possible.
"The laser we have, we only have that until the end of January, and that's something that a lot of people like to see," Westbrook said.
"People don't realize we don't have that here year round, so if they want to see that they have to do it as soon as possible."
The planetarium also hosts a Family Astronomy Night each month.
"Family Astronomy Night has our current shows offered in the evening and telescopes for viewing the moon and planets if the weather cooperates," Peche said.
"It is turning out to be pretty popular."
Deciding what shows to bring to the Barlow Planetarium can be difficult.
"Choosing shows can be pretty challenging. We have to select shows that are capable of being shown in our theater using Barlow's 1998 technology," Peche said
"New planetariums have gone to 360 degrees full color video, so most shows being made now are being made in a format that we can't use, so that plays into part what shows we pick," Westbrook said.
"In the next four to five years here we will be moving to a new system hopefully."
Moving to a new system could be a huge benefit to the planetarium's growth, which has seen a 50 percent increase in public attendance, and a 25 percent increase in field trip attendance over the last four years.
"If Barlow's growth continues as it did during the last four years, it would be possible to have its greatest attendance year ever," Peche said.
Field trips are an adventure at the Barlow, with exciting and educational star shows.
"My favorite thing is doing the school shows, it's exciting. It's like when you first discovered the moon, or first discovered how awesome Jupiter is," Westbrook said.
"I love it because I'm into astronomy, and the kids, boy can you tell they love it."
The Barlow has a full calendar of events through the upcoming year.
"In March, the Barlow will be celebrating 15 years of operation with some special events," Peche said.
The Barlow hopes that the shows leave an impact on audience members.
"After each of our educational programs the Barlow always does a tour of the current night time sky, so guests always leave with some voluntary homework if they choose to look up in the sky," Peche said.
"I hope that the shows will give people a desire to find out more about astronomy. We only get an hour with them, so you can't teach everything about astronomy, but you can at least get people excited to find out more or maybe come back," Westbrook said.
"If we can get people into doing astronomy as a hobby, that's the fun part."
Tickets for shows can be purchased online and at the planetarium. Cost is $7 for adults, $6 for students and $5 for seniors and children.
For a full schedule of shows, events and more information about the Barlow Planetarium, please visit www.barlowplanetarium.org.