The Planetarium and the Astronomer (An Overview)

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Session 43 -- Planetariums
Oral presentation, 8:30am - 12:30pm, June 14, 1995, 9:20am - 6:30pm

[43.04] The Planetarium and the Astronomer (An Overview)

Carolyn Collins Petersen (University of Colorado) (Loch Ness Productions)

The science of astronomy is one of the most accessible of the so-called "hard" sciences. Most people are familiar with some sky phenomena, and do not feel threatened at the prospect of learning more about the stars and planets. In the media, some of the best-known scientists are astronomers, and programs about astronomy tend to gather appreciatively large audiences.

Planetarium facilities are a very special form of science media, with the fortunate task of presenting astronomy to the public. Like science writers, planetarium professionals take complex science information and make it accessible to the public with a variety of audio-visual techniques. Because many planetarium professionals have science backgrounds as well as educational training, they have an advantage over traditional media practitioners, who -- except for a few notable exceptions -- do not always have the luxury of a science background when it comes to writing about science. The unique background of the planetarian, however, builds a logical and natural link between astronomers and the public.

This paper summarizes the wide variety of ways in which planetaria disseminate astronomy information -- ranging from live public lectures, to "astronomy updates", to hands-on activities for school children, and professionally-produced multi-media programs created especially for the needs of the domed theater. It ends with a few broad suggestions about possible roles for astronomers in any or all of these activities.

Carolyn Collins Petersen has been a writer and producer of planetarium programs since 1980. Her programs have appeared in more than 500 facilities around the world. Her print work has appeared in the Denver Post, Sky and Telescope, Astronomy Magazine, and the Griffith Observer. She is the lead author of the upcoming book "Hubble Vision: Science With the Hubble Space Telescope" (due out from Cambridge University Press in Fall, 1995). Petersen has won several awards for her work. She is also a Graduate Research Assistant at the LASP at the University of Colorado, where she works on tasks for the GHRS team and the Ulysses Comet Watch. She has just completed work on a masters' thesis in science journalism.

8:30a program listing