On Jan. 19, 2013 during the Inauguration weekend, I visited a planetarium for the first time in over 25 years. An “Inaugural Star Party” was held at the David M. Brown Arlington Planetarium where astronauts, scientists and administrators from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) were in attendance to visit the community. This event was the NASA choice for their Inauguration Day festivities.
There were several telescopes for stargazing and back to back high-definition digital program presentations in the full-dome planetarium. Liam Neeson narrated that night’s program titled "The Dynamic Earth" which was breathtaking in terms of its realism. He discussed how the Earth sustains life by continuously cycling carbon dioxide and oxygen between its oceans and the atmosphere. He further discussed why Venus, a neighboring planet to Earth, is unsuitable for life.
The host of the party was the "Friends of Arlington's Planetarium,” a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization, incorporated in May 2010. The organization’s mission is to raise funds to maintain and improve the planetarium facility. Several individuals including myself were voted onto the board of directors earlier that month.
The organization was originally founded to preserve the planetarium which has been in existence since the early 1970’s, because it was close to being permanently closed.
Having saved the facility, the ongoing goal of the organization is to utilize the planetarium as a vehicle to get children excited about science, and as a “projector” for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education.
“Planetariums are important tools for exposing kids to science and getting them excited about it early in their lives. I wanted to expose my kids to astronomy early on with the hope that they would find science enjoyable. Planetariums are critical if we want to expose kids from underprivileged backgrounds to STEM education fields, and if we are honest about our desire to close the achievement gap in public education.” said Dr. Ralph G. Perrino, a fellow member of the board.
In "The Sky Is Not the Limit," the world renowned astrophysicist, Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson, attributes his passion for astrophysics in part to his early visits to the famous Hayden Planetarium in New York City.
• Friday, Feb. 8, there will be a viewing of the film “Contact” starring Jodie Foster.
• Saturday, Feb. 9, there will be a screening of the digital program “Oasis in Space.”
• Sunday, Feb. 10, there will be a presentation by Dr. Sethane Howard entitled “Four Thousand Years of Women in Science.”
Visit the Friends of Arlington's Planetarium website for further details.