Planetarium shows are out of this world

By Susan Bubak, February 6, 2007

    Kristin Woodley, a PhD astronomy student, explains how the projector works. Photo by Susan Bubak.
Kristin Woodley has stars in her eyes. The student director of McMaster's McCallion Planetarium is one of six physics and astronomy graduate students who lead public tours of the universe.

"Every single person has an interest in what's going on in the universe," says the PhD astronomy student, who has been giving tours at the planetarium for more than three years. "It expands your horizons and your imagination and it's cool."

But Woodley wasn't always a star gazer. She began her undergraduate studies in optometry at the University of Waterloo, but admits she "couldn't stand the sight of blood."

When she took a physics course on planets as an elective, she discovered that she enjoyed studying stars and galaxies. She went on to complete her B.Sc. at Waterloo and then came to McMaster for her M.Sc. and PhD.

The one-hour public tours at the planetarium are offered to school groups, clubs and anyone else who wants to learn more about the universe.

Woodley especially enjoys working with school children because of the interesting questions they ask, such as, "How old is the Earth?" and "What will happen when the sun dies?"

Tucked away in the basement of the Burke Science Building, the McCallion Planetarium was the first planetarium in Ontario to offer shows to the public.

The planetarium has a dome-shaped ceiling on which images of stars and planets are projected.

The spherical projector is covered with holes of various sizes. The small holes represent stars; the large holes are planets. When the light inside the projector is turned on, the light passes through the holes and onto the domed ceiling.

The projector can rotate to mimic the movement of the stars in the universe and it can also move sideways to give viewers an idea of what the sky looks like in other parts of the world.

Starting in April, the planetarium will close for one year to undergo renovations that include new seats and a new digital projector.

The next public show on Extrasolar Planets and Extraterrestrials will be on Thursday, Feb. 8. Show times are at 6:45 p.m, 8 p.m. and 9:15 p.m.

Admission is $3 per person. For tickets, please visit the planetarium's website or call 905-525-9140, ext. 27777.