Located in the center of Vincent Science Hall, the Slippery Rock University planetarium is being utilized to a greater extent this fall, providing learning experiences through shows created by SRU students and presented to students from SRU and surrounding school districts.
“The Slippery Rock University Planetarium Rocket Room is a theater, OmniMax, and Planetarium all in one,” the planetarium’s Facebook page says. “It is a place to discuss and learn about Space, Technology, Science, Human Advancement, and much more, hidden away in the Vincent Science Center.”
Dr. Krishna Mukherjee is an assistant professor in the department of physics and pre-engineering. She is the supervising professor of the planetarium.
“The SRU planetarium is different from others because it is run by students,” Mukherjee said. “They come up with ideas for the show. They are also responsible for the music and light effects.”
Mukherjee said the star projector has been around since the late 1960s and cost about a half a million dollars to set up. She said there was talk of demolishing it in the 1990s, but the Physics department was dedicated to saving the Planetarium.
“When I started teaching Astronomy and then later Space Science, I had a service learning component built into these two courses.” Mukherjee said.
She said students from her astronomy and space science courses do shows for elementary and middle school students and the staff sometimes dresses up in costumes.
Daniel Arnett is a computer science major who works as the director of the planetarium.
“Recently ever since I have discovered Daniel Arnett, I have made him the student director of the planetarium and now every Thursday he gives shows,” Mukherjee said. “He has recruited a number of other Computer Science and Physics majors.”
She said Arnett works wonders with the software and has really transformed the planetarium.
“Now we have transitioned to only digital images and this would not have been possible if it wasn’t for Dr. [Manuel] Valera of Physics who came up with a brilliant idea of using a cheap spherical mirror and a projector to show full-dome movies,” Mukherjee said. “Dr. Valera then trained Dan [Arnett] and a few others who have graduated.”
Mukherjee said the planetarium is planning to do a brand new show next year for the 125 anniversary of SRU and if Comet ISON is bright enough, they will do a show open to the public after Thanksgiving. Regular shows are open to students on Thursdays at 6:00 and 7:00 p.m.