Student employees share the UW planetarium experience

The planetarium, located in the physical sciences building, regularly hosts shows hosted by salaried students. (Photo by Emma Jones)

The staff at UW’s Harry C. Vaughn Planetarium strives to create engaging stories and present information about the night sky, a task that requires careful planning, research, and creativity.

Sometimes the shows focus on things like the Wyoming night sky, and other times the presenters have more freedom to explore different storylines.

“Usually we start with a brief description of a show concept and go from there. Sometimes the show is about recent events in astronomy, and sometimes the show is about things that visitors would find interesting like extraterrestrial life. or black holes,” Planetarium employee Caleb Eastlund said.

“We are also expected to be good public speakers and to be able to not know things or answer questions to the best of our ability at an all-ages level of understanding,” Corinne Komlodi said. , employee of the Planetarium.

Staff learn to program different aspects of the sky on the planetarium dome, including what the sky looks like from Laramie.

“I love doing the Wyoming Skies shows that tell the stories to the stars,” Komlodi said.

“The job involves getting to know the planetarium system and doing research for each show so that we are as informed as possible on the subject matter,” Komlodi said.

The planetarium features digital displays that explore constellations, planets, and other events in the night sky.

“We get a lot of kids coming to visit or even just people who maybe don’t know much about space, so we have to challenge ourselves to come up with new, engaging ways to explain things. “, Eastlund said.

For Komlodi, audience reactions can make or break a show.

“When we don’t have an interactive or excited audience, we can feel let down, and it’s hard to make the show inclusive and exciting,” Komlodi said.

If the skies are clear, some shows also include a trip to the Student Research and Training Observatory (STAR) atop the Physical Sciences Building.

“We guide visitors through the night sky and allow them to see space with their own eyes,” Eastlund said.

Eastlund said working at the planetarium gave him a new perspective he hadn’t experienced in his astronomy classes.

“I learned a lot from these classes, but the planetarium really helped me come back to Earth and look up. Learning about the constellations and their stories was something I had never really understood before, and I enjoy every second of it,” Eastlund said.

“My favorite part of my job is being able to share my love of space with as many people as possible,” Eastlund said. “I hope everyone who visits the planetarium will leave with the same wonder and excitement that brought me to astronomy in the first place.”

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Arline J. Mercier