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 and Photographing the Aurora Borealis
When the northern lights come out, it sometimes appears as if the sky is on fire. There is an eerie connection between the Sun and our planet’s atmosphere that can sometimes cause the sky to unexpectedly glow with shades of red, yellow, purple and green; an atmospheric phenomenon called the northern lights or Aurora Borealis. The Sun is constantly spraying the solar system with millions of tons of charged particles each minute. The stream of charged particles from the Sun, or solar wind, consists mostly of electrons and protons. Sometimes the Sun is very energetic and violently ejects the particles in a solar flare or coronal mass ejection (CME). In the simplest explanation, aurorae are produced when these charged particles collide with Earth’s magnetic field and spiral down along magnetic field lines where their energy interacts with gases in Earth’s atmosphere. The result causes the gases at various levels in the atmosphere to glow or give off light.

Capturing the Aurora Borealis with a digital camera requires the simplest of equipment. All you need is a camera that has a bulb setting (look for a B on the shutter speed dial), a sturdy tripod, a fairly wide-field lens, and a remote shutter release. A remote shutter release is a way to activate your camera shutter without having to touch the camera. In the earlier days of manual film cameras, it was generally referred to as a cable release. If you have to touch your camera to open and close the camera shutter by pressing and releasing the shutter button, then there is the risk of blurring the image. A camera that has a timer to start and stop the exposure is ideal while some DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) cameras also have the capability to trigger the shutter with a wireless remote.    

Use the widest and fastest lens you own. A normal 50mm lens will do, but a wider lens such as a 17 or 24mm lens is much better for capturing the sweeping arc of a bright display or large pillars and curtains over a wide landscape. A fast lens refers to the maximum aperture of the lens or the amount of light that your lens will let in. This is usually designated by an “f-number” or “f-stop” – for example f/2.8. The smaller the f-number, the bigger the maximum aperture is for your lens and the more light that will be collected on the image sensor or film. A lens set at f/2.8 will allow more light into the camera than will a lens set at f/4. You must also have the ability to manually focus your camera lens or to set the focus ring to infinity. In low-light or dark situations, the automatic focus feature on your camera will not work.     

Your exposure will depend on the brightness of the aurora, ISO setting, and the overall sky brightness (city, suburb, or dark rural location). The ISO setting of a digital camera determines the sensitivity of the camera’s image sensor and is similar to ISO ratings for film photography. An ISO setting of 800 increases the sensitivity of the image sensor more so than an ISO setting of 400. As such, a high ISO (800 – 1600) setting would be more appropriate for dark or low-light situations.

Faint aurora displays, which can sometimes show beautiful hidden colors, might require an exposure lasting up to 30 seconds with the aperture set at f/2.8 and ISO setting of 800. Brighter aurorae can be imaged in less time and with a lower ISO setting. Depending on the focal length of your lens, longer exposures will also lead to stars trailing in the image.

For the most striking photos, include a familiar horizon such as silhouetted trees, distant houses, hills, fences, or even an old windmill. Including foreground objects adds drama to the image. If possible, a nice touch might also include a recognizable constellation in the frame. To increase your chances of seeing an aurora, it is imperative that you find a dark location away from city lights with an unobstructed horizon. Depending on your latitude, an auroral display might only appear close to the horizon. Any city light, glare, or obstructions will reduce your chances of seeing the aurora.

Aurora and Windmill

On October 8th, 2016 a magnetic filament erupted from the Sun propelling a CME in the direction of Earth and was predicted to impact Earth’s magnetic field sometime on October 13th. I was aware that an aurora display might be possible because the CME had impacted Earth’s magnetic field and was sparking aurorae across northern Europe at mid-latitudes. As night approached, I traveled a short distance away from city lights and waited.

Indeed the aurora did make a brief appearance as seen in the accompanying image, Old Windmill and Aurora Borealis (above). I used a Canon 60Da DSLR camera with an ISO setting of 400. My lens choice was a Sigma 17 to 50mm lens at 17mm with the aperture set at f/4. The exposure was 30 seconds. I chose these particular settings because there was a bright waxing gibbous moon. Much of the aurora was drowned out by the moonlight, but as the image shows, the windmill and rural landscape was illuminated by the moonlight. The beauty of using a digital camera is that it provides immediate results without shooting several rolls of film and waiting to have them developed. Sometimes it is difficult to discern whether an aurora is present. Because the image sensor of the camera can capture and hold light, I will often times take an image or two of the sky to pick up on any activity that my eyes may not be able to see.

Red Dawn

"Raging Aurora": High arcing curtains of red and green dance in the the November sky. This image was captured on November 7, 2004 from O'Fallon, Illnois. Equipment used: Canon EOS Digital Rebel, 18-55mm lens set at 18mm,  f/4.5, ISO 400, 30 second exposure.  
Aurora can be unpredictable, but one way to know when aurorae might be on display is to watch solar websites that post when there has been a solar disturbance (flare or CME) directed toward Earth. Spaceweather.com presents a very informative website than can send you email or text alerts with auroral predictions. You never know when an aurora will make an appearance. They can happen at a moment’s notice and last all night or only appear for a brief few minutes. Be sure to always have your camera, tripod, and extra batteries ready to travel to a dark site.
"Red Dawn" aurora image: My first aurora sighting and image was captured on October 29, 2003 in St. Jacob, Illinois. A large solar flare erupted from the Sun hurtling an immense cloud of charged particles toward Earth. Within a few days the cloud impacted Earth setting off global-wide aurorae that lasted nearly 3 days. In the image, Red Dawn, you can see the familiar Big Dipper asterism bathed in the blood-red auroral glow and yellow pillars. This image was captured with a Minolta SRT-202 35mm camera with a 35mm lens set at f/3.5 and Fujicolor Superia X-TRA 800 color-negative film. The exposure was 25 seconds. This image also published in Sky & Telescope (February 2004).

Aurora - Red Dawn
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.
 Photography of the constellation Auriga the Charioteer by Till Credner (2012). 
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
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.
          https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c0/AurigaCC.jpg               https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/2c/PegasusCC.jpg
          Photography of the constellation Auriga the Charioteer                                  Photography of the constellation Pegasus 
             by Till Credner (2012).                                                                                by Till Credner (2004).                             
         Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported                      Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
The constellations of Andromeda and Pegasus actually share a star called Alpha Andromedae or Alpheratz in the northeast corner of the Great Square. From this star we can find Andromeda springing away from Alpheratz as a double line of stars. If you look closely, those stars actually resemble the long slender legs of the letter “A”. There is another faint fuzzy patch of light near the stars of Andromeda called M-31 or the Andromeda Galaxy.
andromedia galaxyAndromedia Galaxy through the eyes of the telescope.  Photo by Mark Brown.
It is a galaxy similar to the Milky Way galaxy and is 2.2 million light-years away. When you gaze upon the Andromeda Galaxy, you are witnessing light that has traveled over 2 million years to reach your eye. This means that you are seeing the galaxy as it existed more than 2 million years ago. What does this galaxy look like today? We do not know – you will have to wait another 2.2 million years to find out.

To aid in your search of objects in the night sky, visit Peterson Planetarium and take in one of their night sky programs where you can learn more about “what’s up” in the October sky. Or you can download a free copy of the current night sky at http://www.skymaps.com/downloads.html

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