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Under the night's starry sky

By JUDY SHERARD

jsherard@dailynews.net

It doesn't matter what the clock shows, the digital planetarium and inflatable dome at Fort Hays State University makes it possible to get a nighttime view anytime.

The system was purchased for the FHSU Science and Mathematics Education Institute with a donation from Mary Schweitzer and the Steffens Foundation, said Paul Adams, director of the SMEI.

The planetarium was open for viewing Monday afternoon in the Memorial Union, and planetarium director Megan Adams gave a short program

The system was set for Hays' latitude and longitude, and through advancing time, it was possible to glimpse the night sky in mid-afternoon.

"This is a lot better than if we were to go outside and look around," Megan Adams said. "(There's) no light interference."

She said she grew up learning about astronomy. As a junior majoring in English, telling stories about the constellations is a good fit.

"I tell constellation stories and give them a sense of scale," Megan Adams said. "It takes us 10 minutes to get to Ellis at 75 miles an hour, and it takes light eight minutes to go 930 million miles. What sort of distance does that give us, and how far does light have to travel to get to us?"

It takes approximately 30 minutes to set up the dome and planetarium.

"It's pretty easy," she said.

The system helps engage children and adults in science.

"It's a tool that does a lot to help people appreciate astronomy," Paul Adams said.

Being in the dome makes it easier to point out the constellations to large groups, he said.

Megan Adams travels to schools and other facilities nearby to conduct programs.

For those farther away, the FHSU staff has conducted training workshops for teachers, librarians and others who want to borrow it.

Approximately 18 attended a workshop this summer, and a number of libraries borrowed the dome and planetarium for programs this summer.

"Our dome has traveled far," Paul Adams said.

Funds for the planetarium director's position come from the educational opportunity fund.

"I wanted to get the planetarium out, not just to the public, but to the campus, too," Paul Adams said.