story: Jon Lewis
THE STARS ARE OUT AT THE SCHREDER PLANETARIUM
Who doesn’t get a thrill seeing a shooting star streaking across the nighttime sky?
That same thrill is available during the day, thanks to some digital technology housed at the North State’s only astronomy public education center. Students can revel in the excitement of a fiery meteorite or asteroid at 10 am on a school day.
David Ewart, director of the Schreder Planetarium, watches it happen on a regular basis. “Kids can come out in the middle of the day and see the stars. I’ve had to stop the show because kids get so jacked up at seeing a shooting star,” Ewart says.
“If you can get kids hooting and hollering from looking at the galaxy, that’s big,” adds Richard Glass, a planetarium staff member who taught at Black Butte Elementary for 25 years.
Founded in 1979 and operated by the Shasta County of Education, Schreder Planetarium is big. And it needs to be, considering it’s a place to reflect on our place in the universe, study heavenly bodies and explore galaxies millions of light-years from Earth.
The planetarium seats 65 in comfortable reclining chairs that allow observers to take in vivid three-dimensional digital displays projected onto a 30-foot, 360-degree domed ceiling and accompanied by a surround sound stereo system. It’s an exhilarating encounter enjoyed each year by between 7,000 and 10,000 students from schools in nine North State counties.
Adults have been enjoying planetarium shows for years, too. Schreder Planetarium is open to the public two to four evenings a month for professionally produced 90-minute shows with titles like “Secrets of the Sun,” “Stars of the Pharaohs” and “Wonders of the Universe.”
For Ewart, who has worked closely with NASA, the planetarium’s chief role is as a science education center where kids in kindergarten through high school can be immersed in an environment that borders on sensory overload as science, space and history come alive.
“It’s not like looking at a flat piece of paper,” Ewart says. “It gets them to understand time and space. It’s way big, the universe.”
Astronomy “is the glue that holds all the sciences together, yet it’s kind of forgotten,” says Ewart, who doubles as the coordinator of science programs through the Shasta County Office of Education.
By bringing the lights down and bringing up images from the state-of-the-art Evans & Sutherland Digistar 3 projection system, Ewart takes students across the veil of the night sky to reveal the solar system, constellations and distant galaxies. There’s plenty to teach the young stargazers. “Kids think the sun is moving and not the Earth. It’s an egocentric thing: we are the Earth, everything revolves around us,” Ewart says with a chuckle.
Ewart points out the Earth is 93 million miles from the sun, placing the blue planet in the “happy zone” between boiling and freezing. He also explains how the Earth’s moon is bigger than Pluto and could be considered a planet in its own right.
In addition to developing summer astronomy and robotics camps, Ewart has worked hard to turn the planetarium into a valuable resource for teachers as well by helping to secure grant funding for the Science Model Academy for Reflective Teaching (SMART) program.
The SMART program provides teachers in the third through eighth grades an opportunity to bolster their science teaching skills by participating in a model academy incorporating resources at the planetarium and Shasta College in partnership with Chico State University.
As a discretionary program of the Shasta County Office of Education, the future of Schreder Planetarium is uncertain, Ewart says. To help ensure continued operation, a fund has been established at the Shasta Regional Community Foundation. For additional ways to help the planetarium, visit www.schrederplanetarium.com. •
1644 Magnolia Ave., Redding (530) 225-0295 www.shastacoe.org/planetarium