Thursday, March 20, 2008

Astronomy is Cool

Last night I went to a meeting of the Detroit Metropolitan Area Physics Teachers (DMAPT), a group of local physics teachers who've been meeting for 50 years now. The meeting was at The Sherzer Observatory at Eastern Michigan University Unfortunately it was cloudy, so we didn't get to use the telescopes. However, if you're in SE Michigan the open it up to the public every clear Thursday night .

Anyway, Norb Vance demoed a cool, affordable planetarium that could easily be used in the classroom. Norb showed off the Sega HomeStar Pro. This $250 planetarium device can turn any flat ceiling into a night sky with 10,000 stars. Allowing students to get a better idea of what the night sky would look like if they could get away from the city.

A little searching found the even cheaper HomeStar Pure ($129). The major differences are that the Pro rotates the sky automatically while the Pure has manual rotation and it seems the brightness is different. The Pro says it has 3xLEDs while the Pure only lists one LED. I almost forgot, the Pro includes the ability to have a shooting star go by periodically.

So, is it better then Stellarium which you can get for free? I suppose it depends on what you're trying to accomplish. Norb showed the night sky to great effect and also did a demo of what happens to the night sky with light pollution. Additionally, bu projecting the sky on the ceiling you get a better feel for actual star gazing then you get from a computer screen. That said, however, Stellarium is a totally cool program that I highly recommend.

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