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Barlow Planetarium celebrates fifteen years of service

By Allison Fields

Presenter Ty Westbrook and director Alan Peche pose with Phil Plait, guest speaker and author of 'Bad Astronomy,' at the Barlow Planetarium's 15th anniversary party March 23.

photo submitted by Ty Westbrook
Presenter Ty Westbrook and director Alan Peche pose
with Phil Plait, guest speaker and author of Bad Astronomy,
at the Barlow Planetarium's 15th anniversary party March 23.

UW-Fox hosted the Barlow Planetarium's 15th anniversary celebration in Perry Hall March 23.

Phil Plait, author of Bad Astronomy, led a presentation where he debunked the "egg standing on end" legend and also discussed different misconceptions of science found in Hollywood films. The talk was followed by a question and answer session for audience members.

The legend of the egg standing on end comes from an old belief that an egg will stand on its end during an equinox, when night and day are approximately the same time on Earth. This occurs twice a year around March 21 and Sept. 22.

Plait discussed how Hollywood lacks science in films by examining the differences between the films and reality. He did so using two specific examples.

The first example was the movie "Armageddon", which he explained was unrealistic in that the film portrayed the asteroid and how the characters destroyed it.

Plait said the second example, "Deep Impact", was more realistic. He explained when the comet hit Earth, the size of it would have destroyed the planet completely.

"I really enjoyed hearing him talk about the differences between how Hollywood portrays science and how it's different from reality," community member Briana Hagany said.

Audience members enjoyed the Q&A segment of the show and also admired Plait's passion for science.

"My favorite question was what he gets the most passionate about. I really like seeing him get excited about the stuff he likes," Hagany's relative, Brent, said.

The event was held to celebrate not only the anniversary of the planetarium, but also the growing success it has had over the past four years. The Barlow has had a 50 percent increase in public attendance and a 25 percent increase in the number of field trips.

It is also ranked in the top 25 percent of college and university planetariums in the country.

"The Barlow is a very interesting planetarium for being in a community this size and a campus this size. When we factor in those two things, we are doing very well," Alan Peche, director of the planetarium, said.

Plait's appearance was popular among audience members. Many had already heard of him and follow his blog.

"He has a very big following. He writes a blog for Slate magazine and he has a couple books out that talk about astronomical misconceptions," Peche said.

After the show, a book signing was held for Bad Astronomy, which was for sale in the ticket booth.

Those involved thought the event was successful.

"I think the Barlow is at a great and exciting point right now. The next five years are going to be really interesting for the Barlow and I think you'll probably see some pretty dynamic changes," Peche said.

For a list of upcoming shows at the Barlow Planetarium, please visit www.uwfox.uwc.edu/barlow/.

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