Planetarium opens for the new school year


Nate Guidry/Post-Gazette

North Hills High School students participate in an astronomy class in the new digital immersion theater.

Jordyn Hronec, Staff Writer

We’re all looking for things to do during the weeknights, lest we be drawn further into the spiraling abyss that is sitting alone in our room and doing homework for four hours. So after taking a quick peek at the North Hills website to see what exactly was going on at our school this week, I decided to attend the grand opening of the planetarium’s new shows. Run by the Batsons, who teach Chemistry and Astronomy, and are two of the most science-y people I can think of, the planetarium opens up its doors to the public for a variety of different shows, depending on what time of year you attend. Thursday night’s shows, the first of the November-April season, consisted of Wilbear’s Adventure, a show aimed towards the kiddies, and Dark: Understanding Dark Matter, a documentary about, you guessed it, dark matter. Overall, both shows were engaging, visually pleasing, and informative, as they were followed by a brief lesson on constellations given by Mr. Batson himself.

Light-hearted and interactive, Wilbear’s Adventure had both me and the several children in attendance awing. I also couldn’t help but smile to myself when I heard the kids whispering excitedly as airplanes soared across the screen, as Wilbear dreamed of what it would be like to fly. This show was interactive as well, prompting you to count with Wilbear, “one thousand one, one thousand two, and one thousand three”! The kids seemed to enjoy it, giggling and learning quite a bit as they learned about Pegasus and the Big Dipper. And so did I, always a kid at heart. The film ended with the kids snickering at even the credits, and then Mr. Batson led the in-depth constellation discussion, producing pictures out of stars that not only amazed the kids, but had both me and the parents in awe.

After Wilbear, and after the kids left, it was time to get down to business with Dark: Understanding Dark Matter. This show, a documentary about dark matter and how it creates galaxies, was both extremely informative and visually pleasing. “Towards the middle of this show, there’s some really stunning artwork that shows how galaxies are formed from dark matter, so whether you’re here for the science aspect or the art, this is a good one,” Mr. Batson told the audience before the show began. And, boy, was he right. This show really delivered on the amazing artwork front and was any galaxy-print-everything lover’s wildest dream. This show was complex, detailing just how many galaxies are actually out there in our universe and giving me a slight existential crisis as to how small a role we each have in it. Yet I am satisfied, know a lot about dark matter, and am frankly blown away by the existence of everything. Well done, planetarium crew, well done.

While on the subject of the whole look of the show, it’s important to mention that a planetarium show isn’t just any old run-of-the-mill film viewing. For one thing, the ‘movie’ is projected onto the ceiling, the domed ceiling, which usually doubles as a crystal-clear picture of the night sky. And for anyone who’s never been to our planetarium, now Digital-immersion Theater, it’s surreal. Sitting there, head tilted back, marveling at the stars that you didn’t know existed because it’s always too cloudy to see them at night…it’s an experience that’s hard to come by, for sure.

“We have different shows every month,” said Mr. Batson. “Next month will be our Christmas shows.” He then took the time to explain them further. “The kids’ show is called George and Oatmeal Save Santa. It’s about a snowman named Oatmeal who goes out and looks for Santa after Santa gets lost. But then Oatmeal gets lost, too! So he calls upon his good friend, George, who knows the night sky, and George helps him use the constellations to know where he is and where he’s going. It’s very cute. We’re also showing one for the older audience about the constellation Orion, which is prominent in the December sky. It discusses the stories that different cultures have about Orion, and that’s a really cool one.”

To attend a show at the planetarium, aside from the grand openings, you do need to make a reservation, though it’s free to the public. Group reservations and special events are accepted, and all reservations can be made by calling 412-318-1000 ext. 3166, or emailing [email protected].

“We have our shows on one week night for three weeks out of the month,” Mr. Batson told me. “Except next month, we’ll have four shows, since the Christmas shows usually draw a larger crowd. We have the shows typically on a Thursday, a Friday, and a Tuesday…days when people may not have a lot to do.” I highly recommend attending a show this year, and like Mr. Batson said, just go on a night where you don’t have a lot to do. Bring the kids! There’s nobody too young or too old to learn about the night sky and have fun doing it. Just don’t think too hard about it, or you may find yourself questioning everything you know about your existence.