The Von Karman Line, or “the edge of space”, is only sixty-two miles above sea level. For those who live in the Sandhills, the great frontier will come even closer with the grand reopening of the Fayetteville State University Planetarium on May 15.
Closed since 2017, when major renovations to the Charles A. Lyons Science Building began, the planetarium underwent major upgrades during the hiatus.
“Our university has made it a priority to ensure that the planetarium is part of the renovation process,” said Dr. Jonathan Breitzer, assistant professor of chemistry and director of the planetarium.
Along with new seating, the planetarium has ten new projectors, a high-resolution computerized system that captures the deep blackness of space, and a 6,500-watt audio system for a truly out-of-this-world experience.
Planetarium director and astronomy instructor Joseph Kabbes was recruited just as the planetarium was closing and was instrumental in its extreme transformation.
“With the old system, we could only show stars from Earth because of the mechanical limitations of the projector,” Breitzer explained. The searchlight was gear-driven; you would have to calibrate it to make sure Mercury was in the right place. Everything is calculated with the new computerized system, and we are not just confined to the earth. We can go to different planets; we can even get out of the galaxy.”
Breitzer, who ran the planetarium on his own for six years before Kabbes was hired, believes the planetarium is essential to maintaining the connection between the community and the FSU and called it a “great public service.”
“Historically, the planetarium has been a way to connect people to our university and get them interested in science,” Breitzer said. “It’s been here since the 1980s, but not many people knew about it. We reached out to schools and homeschool groups and it grew from there.”
“When I was five years old in Chicago, I couldn’t wait to go to the planetarium as soon as I was old enough to go in. I thought it was the coolest thing ever, and that made me made me want to be a scientist. . I want to be able to give that back,” Breitzer explained.
To further capitalize on the planetarium’s wow factor, the date of its grand reopening coincides with a major astronomical event: May 15 is the night of a lunar eclipse.
The partial eclipse will begin at 10:27 p.m., with totality at 11:29 p.m. The planetarium will have telescopes available to view the event, and even those without show tickets are more than welcome.
Breitzer shared some tips for guests to observe before arriving at the planetarium: “Like any theatrical experience, try to be quiet during the presentation, put away cell phones.”
Ultimately, Bretitzer hopes people will arrive prepared to be amazed and leave with more knowledge about our place in the cosmos.
“I know I’ve failed as a teacher if there aren’t a lot of hands up after a presentation,” Breitzer joked. “Bring your questions, your curiosity and your sense of wonder. This is a place where everyone is valued, and everyone is treated like a scientist.
Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for children and can be purchased on the planetarium website, www.uncfsu.edu/community/planetarium.
The planetarium is located at WT Brown Drive in the Charles A. Lyons Science Building on the FSU campus.