Welcome to Science and Math Education Center &
The Peterson Planetarium!

October 27th
Costume Contest            Dr. Ratra

Join us for Dr. Ratra's presesntation on Cosmology and the evolution of the universe, the accelerated expansion, and dark matter/dark energy! Come an hour early and participate in our Space-based costume contest! (See costume contest page for details on registration.)

Loretto A. Langley Charitable Trust Award!     In the News...     Cool Facts!  
About our Photography... Opportunities For You!

Night Skies by Mark Brown, VIPP

About the Planetarium

Peterson Planetarium was named for Oscar J. Peterson, ESU chair of the math department from 1928-1963.  Dr. O.J. Peterson was responsible for adding the planetarium to the new Science Hall, which opened in 1958.  In 1959, Dr. George Downing became the first director and his first student planetarium operator and lecturer was Kenneth Ohm.  Ken is seated beside the newly installed Spitz A-2 Star Projector that was used from 1959-1994.

Ken Ohm operating Spitz A-2                  Ken Ohm operating the new Spitz A-2 Star Projector in the newly opened planetarium in 1959. Three rings of
                 continuous bench seating, covered in red vinyl, encircled the operator and machine. The planetarium is located
                                            in the sub-basement of Cram Science Hall. Image courtesy of Kenneth Ohm.

      Peterson Planetarium is an educational outreach branch of the Science and Math Education Center. The planetarium is a teaching facility for campus classes in space science and other courses that schedule sessions in this unique audiovisual theater. It seats 38 under a 24-foot dome, which serves as a projection screen. We have the Spitz 512 star projector that was installed in 1996 and renovated in 2014. To this supplement Earth-bound perspective of the night sky, a hemispherical mirror projection was added in 2014 to provide full dome audio video programming. A supplemental digital projector allows for interaction via the Internet or displays shows via DVDs. It is administered through the Departments of Physical Sciences with funds provided by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Programming at the Peterson Planetarium serves a variety of community and University audiences.

Peterson Planetarium holds two regular series that are open to the general public and are completely free of charge.
  1. On the second Saturday of the month, live shows of the night sky are presented accompanied by a full-dome program chosen from a variety of themes such as astronomy, Earth science, biology, history, and mathematics.
  2. Every Thursday evening from 6:30 to 7:45, a documentary series is presented on the history of U.S. space exploration. This history series is told through actual NASA footage and documentation taken from the Johnson Space center and compiled here on campus to walk the audience through the first signs of rocket development to the Space Race and beyond.
We also host presentations for campus students and K-12 schoolchildren, available to be scheduled on weekdays. Reinforce science standards in space science, earth science, biology and mathematics in your K-12 class!
A full scheduling of public shows from the beginning of February to the last showing in the beginning of June can be found HERE.
Schedule now by calling 620-341-5636 or by going HERE.
To review/preview our available shows, visit our inventory HERE.
Reviews by Teachers:
"perfect match to our 6th grade curriculum" - for Losing the Dark
"the light pollution short show connected with our students" for Losing the Dark
The planetarium is located in room 031, Science Hall, on the west side of the Emporia State University campus. Entrance is from Merchant Street parking or with school buses, use Kellogg Circle stopping just beyond Plumb Hall. Remember that while reservations are not necessary, seating is limited and to guarantee entrance to the shows.

Peterson Planetarium provides ESU students with employment opportunities to work on live show production and video presentations.  Now hiring ESU students  - if interested, contact Dr. Aber at 620-341-5636 with a resume of experience and letter of interest.


 Night Skies with Mark Brown, VIPP

Mark Brown the charter member of our Volunteers in Peterson Planetarium (VIPP). He has contributed presentations, custom shows, operator training, and photographs to Peterson Planetarium and now Night Skies. This is the first of Mark's astronomical updates.
October's Starry Sky
Many sky watchers rate October as one of the year’s best observing months. The early sunsets mean that most of the summer’s stars linger in the west late into twilight. Waiting up only a few hours more brings many of winter’s best sights into view in the east, and it’s not too cold yet in the mid-northern latitudes.
Even though the autumn season is firmly in place, not all of the summer Milky Way has been lost. A short drive into the countryside away from city lights will reveal an impressive view. The Milky Way, that hazy band of light, climbs up from the southwest horizon, passes a few bright stars, divides in two, and then rejoins high overhead. From there it heads toward the northeast where it flows down to greet the early-rising stars of winter.

Looking high (and nearly directly) overhead after sunset, three bright stars form a large asterism called the Summer Triangle. The Summer Triangle is not a constellation, but a prominent grouping of stars from three separate constellations. The three stars in this triangle are Vega in Lyra the Lyre, Altair in Aquila the Eagle, and Deneb in Cygnus the Swan. Lyra is a small trapezoidal constellation and according to some of the mythological sky-lore represents the Lyre of Orpheus. Cygnus, also called the Northern Cross, is easy to trace. The long neck and body of the swan or staff of the cross follows the path of the Milky Way to the southwest while the arms of the cross or wings stretch out on either side. However, Aquila, somewhat resembling a slender diamond-shape pattern of stars, requires a bit more imagination to see the eagle. Yet, how appropriate is it to find an eagle and a swan apparently flying south in the fall?!
Summer Triangle Asterism
Image by Susan Jensen, Odessa, Washington. Take from

Following the Milky Way to the northeast will lead to a distinct side-ways letter “W” or “M” grouping of stars. This is queen Cassiopeia sitting on her throne. To her left and high in the northern sky is Cepheus her husband, and mythical king of Ethiopia. Cepheus’ stars look very similar to a child’s crude drawing of a house. The house is nearly upside down with the apex of the roof pointing toward the pole star, Polaris.
 Photography of the constellation Cassiopeia by Till Credner (2012). 
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Below the “W” of Cassiopeia stands Perseus, who in mythology was the slayer of the Gorgon Medusa and rescuer of Andromeda, the daughter of Cepheus and Cassiopeia. Located between the stars of Perseus and Cassiopeia your unaided eye should spy a dim fuzzy spot. However, a pair of binoculars will reveal a striking pair of open star clusters known as the Double Cluster, which is always a treat to see in the autumn sky.
Continuing your gaze to the northeast and below Perseus is Auriga the Charioteer. This constellation is marked by the bright star Capella which can be easily seen shimmering above the horizon. Flying high in the eastern sky are the stars of the Great Square of Pegasus, Perseus’ flying horse. Pegasus’ stars form a large diamond or sideways square on early autumn evenings. The horse appears upside down with his body and wings forming the Great Square, and his neck and head arching back toward the Milky Way.
October's Full Hunter's Moon
Saturday, October 8th was International Observe the Moon Night where observers were encouraged to look up, understand and appreciate the beauty of Earth’s moon. For those of you who did look up and see the moon, you should have noticed from your vantage point, that the moon appeared half lit or what is known as first quarter phase. During first quarter phase, exactly half the moon is illuminated and the other half is in shadow. This happens because the moon is at a 90 degree angle with respect to the earth and sun. Some people assume that the phases of the moon are due to the shadow of the Earth falling on the moon. However, once the relative positions of the earth, sun and moon are taken into account, it is clear that the phases of the moon are due to the varying amounts of sunlight and shadow on the moon as seen from the earth each month.

During the course of the past week, the moon has gradually changed its appearance in the night sky by growing and brightening in phase, a sequence known as waxing. On Saturday, October 15th at 11:24pm CDT, the moon will reach its full phase when the moon’s orbit takes it around to a point when the moon, earth and sun line up. It is in this alignment when the sun’s light fully illuminates the earth-facing side or full phase of the moon. In this alignment moon rise occurs very near to the same time as sunset. A full moon rising above the horizon can be an awesome sight to behold. But as viewed through a pair of binoculars or telescope, the full moon is the worst time to observe the moon. The harsh sunlight falling upon the moon washes out many of the details in the craters and other surface features. A first quarter moon will reveal more detail because of the contrast between the light and dark portions of the moon.
Moon Phases

Finally, October’s full moon is known as the Hunter’s Full Moon. As Native Americans prepared for the cold months ahead they often looked toward October’s full moon to gather meat for winter. After the fields had been harvested in late September or early October, deer and fox would venture into the fields in search of fallen grains. As such, hunters could easily spot their prey by the light of the full moon.  Regardless of whether the moon is full, at first quarter, waxing or waning, you do not need an excuse to look up at the moon. When looking at the moon, the beauty is simply in the eye of the beholder, so enjoy it.  

International Observe the Moon Night! by MB

The Moon will take center stage for stargazers around the world on Saturday, October 8, 2016 during International Observe the Moon Night (InOMN). InOMN is an annual worldwide public engagement program that encourages observation, appreciation, and understanding of Earth’s closest neighbor - the Moon, and its connection to NASA planetary science and exploration.

From Emporia, Kansas, the Moon will be high in the southern sky after sunset with planet Mars positioned to the lower right. A pair of binoculars or small telescope turned toward the Moon will reveal numerous craters and the dark lunar seas called maria. The lunar maria are large, dark, basaltic plains which formed by ancient volcanic eruptions.
So, grab a friend, look up and share in this sense of wonder and curiosity about the Moon. For more information on International Observe the Moon Night, visit http://observethemoonnight.org

 In the News...

 Cool Facts...

  • See where the International Space Station (ISS) is right now! Check it out HERE.
  • Here is a Live Camera View of the Earth HERE. (Only during the Day)
  • Interactive Tour of the ISS HERE.
  • We are now offering a list of opportunities for educators and students alike for each month. Check it out HERE to find webinars, contest opportunities, and much more!
  • You can sign up to get emails on when the ISS is visible from your location by signing up for spot the station HERE
  • Exoplanets are planets orbiting stars that aren't our own sun. Thousands have been identified, but only a portion of these lie within the 'Goldilocks' zone of their star system, or the habitable zone in which liquid water may be found on the surface. These are the ones we're most interested, for these are the places we're most likely to find extraterrestrial life outside of Earth. Click Here for a handful of the hundreds of 'Goldilocks' Exoplanets. Bellow are links to some videos about each planet mentioned in the slideshow.
  • NASA's first teacher in space, Sharon Christa McAuliffe, never got to fulfill that very role. She perished on January 28th, 1986 on the Challenger. However, her lesson plans survived as remnants of the six lost space science demonstrations that had been planned to be filmed while in orbit and released once she returned to Earth. These lesson plans have been restored and interpreted, and are now available to fulfill McAuliffe's famous words, "I touch the future, I teach." Find out more HERE.
  • On the 20th of January, a paper was published by Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown to confirm the existence of a ninth planet in our solar system. Like Neptune and Uranus, this 'Planet 9' has been identified by it's gravitational influence on it's surroundings. While it hasn't been visually spotted yet, it's estimated to be 700 AU (astronomical units) from the sun on average and a single year seems to take 10,000 to 20,000 Earth years.
  • With a possible new 9th planet in the news and Pluto only demoted to the status of a 'dwarf planet' in 2006, the definition of a planet has been put into our minds. So what makes a planet? Three things:
    • It must directly orbit the sun. It can't orbit something that's orbiting the sun... those are called satellites.
    • It must be large enough to be spherical (like a ball). Asteroids aren't very large, that's why they look like potatoes.
    • It must produce enough gravity to clear it's orbital field. This means it must either pull objects down to it's surface, like a meteorite, or catapult them away like a 'gravity assist' in the movie 'The Martian'. This is where Pluto failed the test... there are too many objects in it's 'personal bubble' that it doesn't 'own'.

About our photography and more...

  • Star Party; Tallgrass photos were taken by Katie Simmons and Jim Aber
  • Mark Brown is an award winning night sky photographer who provides Peterson Planetarium with technical support and show scripts for live shows and images illustrating phenomena to view in space.  He lives in Carlisle, Pennsylvania that is a city in the south central part of the state, sandwiched between Interstates 76 and 81. We are featuring his photography with...
  • Matt Seimears
  • International Space Station Pass - SPOT THE STATION! Sign up to receive notices about when you might see the International Space Station (ISS) streak across the night sky (Go to Here) The alerts will give you the day, time, and path of ISS, so you can watch for 1-4 minutes of this phenomenal orbiting manned space science mobile home!
  • 2015 is the Year of the Dwarves or as Dr. Schenk puts it.... Ceres and Pluto Get Their Due! For more, see HERE.
  • Ceres craters were featured in the Astronomy Picture of the Day, 18 February 2015 Check it out!

Loretto A. Langley Charitable Trust Award!

The Loretto A. Langley Charitable Trust made a generous contribution to the Peterson Planetarium for children’s video programming in December 2014.  This Trust was established by Loretto A. Langley, a secondary education teacher from Lyon County, Kansas.  Miss Langley taught for 40 years and retired in 1966.  She began her career at Lowther Junior High School and ending at Emporia High School where she taught business classes.
She served on the Olpe State Bank board of directors for over 25 years.  She was a member of many organizations and professional groups including; Delta Kappa Gamma, an honorary professional teachers’ organization, the American organization, the American Association of University Women, the Business and Professional Women’s Club in Emporia, and the Retired Teachers Association. Miss Langley was a member of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church and the Sacred Heart Altar Society.
Last Updated 2016-10-20