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Barlow Planetarium to Celebrate 15th Anniversary at UWFox

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It’s been 15 years since the Barlow Planetarium opened its doors to the public on March 20, 1998.  Located on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley it became the state’s first major planetarium.  “To date, the Barlow Planetarium is still the largest planetarium dedicated to astronomy education in Wisconsin,” according to Alan Peche, director of the planetarium since June, 2008.  Dr. Phil Plait

In recognition of the Barlow’s 15th anniversary, Dr. Phil Plait – noted speaker, author and astronomer – will be a guest speaker at a special presentation in Perry Hall on the UWFox campus on March 23, beginning at 3:30 p.m.  His presentation, entitled, “Bad Astronomy,” will look at the wide variety of misconceptions that are common to amateur astronomy.  Plait’s presentation makes use of video clips from popular Hollywood-type movies and television shows that seek to stretch the imagination – as well as scientific truth – when it comes to science. 

Plait began his career in public outreach and education with his “Bad Astronomy” website and blog. He later published a book, “Bad Astronomy” in 2002, and followed that up with a second book, “Death from the Skies!” in 2008.  His Discovery Channel show, “Phil Plait’s Bad Universe,” premiered in 2010.  

Among the venues he’s visited and audiences he’s addressed include the NASA Kennedy Space Center and Dryden Flight Research Center; the Space Telescope Science Institute; the Hayden Planetarium and a variety of museums, planetaria, conferences, colleges and universities.  

Admission to Plait’s 3:30 p.m. presentation is $15 per person, with tickets available at the Barlow box office or online at www.barlowplanetarium.org.  Seating in Perry Hall is limited to reserved seating and advance ticket purchase is encouraged.  The presentation will be followed by a question and answer session and by a signing of Plait’s book, “Bad Astronomy.”  Copies of the book will be available for sale at the presentation.   

The Barlow Planetarium has hosted nearly half a million visitors since it opened in 1998.  During the past four years, 2008-2012, the planetarium has experienced significant attendance growth, despite the downturn in the economy.  The planetarium has also established a “membership program” that now boasts over 400 members comprised of more than 100 households. 

Since 2008 attendance at public shows has grown by over 50% (from 7,000 annually to nearly 11,000) and field trip attendance showing an increase of 25% (from 18,000 annually to nearly 23,000) by increasing its number of pubic operation days from two to six days per week and by increasing its public astronomy shows from two to eight shows per week. 

The planetarium staff was an early adopter of social media marketing techniques through the use of Facebook, Groupon, Living Social and Deal Chicken.  In addition, the staff has earned well-deserved recognition for its astronomy expertise and has had increased contact as a news source from regional print and broadcast media. 

Peche said, “A recent marketing survey of 20 college and university planetariums, representing three countries and 16 states, showed us that our Barlow Planetarium ranks 25th in annual attendance,  in the top 20% in annual revenue, and ranked in the top 30% in expenses. The planetarium’s success is really a testament to the uniqueness of the Fox Cities and northeast Wisconsin.” 

For more information about Plait’s March 23 presentation at UWFox, or about the Barlow Planetarium, contact Peche at 920-832-2868, email alan.peche@uwc.edu, or visit http://www.uwfox.uwc.edu/barlow/index.html.

Posted 2/27/2013