By: Anaximandro D’Oleo Reyes
(Color Feature Story)
April 12, 2012
On March 20, 2012 “The Planetarium Open House” was carried out, an event organized by The Astronomical Society of the Caribbean. The event began with a demonstration and ended with an observation of the sky from the planetarium located in the Physics building at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez Campus (UPRM).
Agustin Rivera, the President of this organization, began the activity by showing to the people present a piece of meteorite that fell billions of years ago in Argentina. The meteorite, in spite of being small, weighs 18 pounds. The meteor’s mass is because it is composed of 94% iron and 6% nickel.
After this presentation, the people went to the Planetarium led by Ms. Dolores Balzac, who is in charge of the facility. During the activity, she was responsible for the direct observation of the sky from the planetarium. “Since 1973, the Physics building had a planetarium and an astronomical observatory that serves the campus and many studies”, Dolores Balzac said.
The Planetarium is a projection room that has a hemispherical screen that simulates the sky. In this screen, there can be projected about 4,000 stars, and a simulation of the globe from the inside, as the sky would look from anywhere in the world, and anytime of the year. The Planetarium can accommodate 64 people seated in reclining seats, allowing greater visibility into the dome. The star projector is in the center of the room and is controlled from a computerized console.
In the planetarium, these kinds of activities are made once a month. But the facilities are available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 12 noon and 1 to 3 pm by previous appointment. The main function of the Planetarium is to carry out observations for different types of studies, but also to show people the beauty of our skies and make them feel motivated for the astronomical field and the environmental steward.
Ms. Dolores began the presentation stating the coordinates of the planetarium’s seating plans. To the right was the north, to the left were found the south, the west could be seen in the front, and behind were the east. After that was observed the sunset simulation, and as the night falls down, the sky shows itself increasingly dark.
Jupiter and Saturn, which where to the west, were the first to be noted by Ms. Dolores, as these begin to see now with the arrival of spring. To the east was the planet Mars, at which she paused to talk a bit about this. “Planet Mars is of great interest at this time and is expected to establish a ‘base’ for future studies, in the not too distant future,” Dolores said. In August, NASA is going to launch a ship to the Red Planet, which will carry a robot. The mission is going to be headed by a Puerto Rican astronaut.
Later, Balzac showed people present many different stars and constellations. The first to be shown was Orion, then Gemini, Aries, Taurus, Ursa Minor and Ursa Major (the large pot and pan little girl as best known), and some other constellations were identified and located. It was explained that the constellations like Taurus, Gemini, Capricorn and other zodiacs are named this way because they are located on the ecliptic (curved line through which passes the Sun around the Earth, its apparent motion).
“The most interesting thing of all was the pole star,” said Michelle Montañez, student of de University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez Campus. Polaris, which is named that way because it can be seen with the naked eye (without the use of a telescope) that sits in the sky more close to the axis of rotation of the Earth or the celestial pole. While the movement occurs in the earth through the ecliptic seems as if all the stars and constellations to move around Polaris.
The activity ended with a simulation of what would be a sunrise in Puerto Rico. The sky was turning from dark to increasingly clear, the sun coming through the east to reach the center so simulating the noon. After that, the president of the organization of the Astronomical Society of the Caribbean was going to be offering a talk on solar storms, and it will be after every monthly activity.