Marie Drake Planetarium

Where the stars always shine in Juneau, Alaska

Newspaper Articles - 2000 to present

Articles in Juneau Empire, unless otherwise indicated.

2017

Juneau's planetarium turns 50. Click here for Feb. 8th article in Capitol City Weekly.

2012

June 5, 2012
Trying to Catch a Glimpse of Venus - Article by Casey Kelley for KTOO

September 19, 2012
Capitol City Weekly - Stargazing in Southeast Alaska.
By Amanda Compton | Capital City Weekly

In a town where it's par for the course to walk around with one's head in the clouds, it makes sense that Juneau would have a planetarium. What comes as a surprise is that Juneau's planetarium happens to be largest one from Seattle to Fairbanks, with a 30-foot diameter.

The Marie Drake Planetarium, located between Harborview Elementary School and the Juneau-Douglas High School, was installed in 1967. It was staffed by local resident Albert Shaw until the early 1970s, when its purpose shifted to more of a storage area and place for visiting basketball teams to sleep.

Beginning in 1990, with momentum initiated by Bill Leighty and Nancy Waterman, the space was restored to serve its original intention, as an astronomy educational tool for the community. It is run by a group of volunteers who, last summer, formed a nonprofit, Friends of the Marie Drake Planetarium (FOMDP). Though the purpose of the nonprofit is to continue the promotion of astronomy education, the primary goal is to raise funds to upgrade the 45-year old projector.

The current analog projector still operates well, but it is limited to project stargazing from locations on Earth. A digital projector would be able to show views from locations throughout our galaxy. It would also allow for the open source shows to be used from online databases. The cost of a digital projector is estimated at around $90,000. Through a garage sale and grants from the Douglas-Dornan Foundation (via the Juneau Community Foundation), Holland America and the Juneau Lions Club, FOMDP has raised a few thousand dollars, though they have quite a bit of effort ahead to reach the mark.

In the meantime, the Planetarium hosts hour-long shows the last Tuesday of every month, led by volunteers, with the exception of June, July and August, when science fiction films are featured. The shows are free, though donations are accepted. Most of the Tuesday night shows begin with a viewing called "The Stars Tonight," where visitors can see what it would look like if it was both dark and clear. According to the FOMDP president, Cristina Della Rosa, the Planetarium's unofficial motto is, "Where the Stars Always Shine." Examples of past show subjects include the Big Bang, celestial navigation and, most recently, black holes.

Steve Kocsis, the FOMDP board secretary and Della Rosa's husband, led the black hole presentation. Kocsis, who has been volunteering at the Planetarium since 1998, is not an astronomer by formal training - he's a retired applied mathematician - but he's been visiting and volunteering with planetariums since he was in high school.

As Kocsis prepared his PowerPoint presentation Della Rosa warmed up the audience.

"How many black holes fit on the end of a pin?" Della Rosa asked.

"None," someone volunteered.

"At least one," another guessed.

"As many as it takes to suck up the pin," said another person.

"Are you ready?" Della Rosa asked. "All of them. Black holes compress matter from stars and planets, all the gravity into a tiny spot."

Della Rosa describes herself as an astronomy humorist. She's published a few electronic books including, most recently, "Your Galaxy Needs You: Astronomy, Astronaut and Alien Humor." Before she retired to the back of the audience on the night of the black hole presentation, she concluded the evening's introduction by noting that a surplus thrift store in Roswell, N.M. is called The Black Hole.

When Kocsis was cued, he began by giving a list of examples of what a black hole is not. It's not a movie, or a financial tool or a punk rock band. It is, he said, while flashing a Wikipedia screenshot onto the south side of the Planetarium's curved hemisphere, "An object with sufficient density that the force of gravity prevents anything from escaping from it except through quantum tunneling behavior."

Kocsis ran through slides of instrumental people, equations, dates and theories behind our current understanding of black holes, as well as reviewing their anatomy. The presentation was punctuated by frequent questions, encouraged at most presentations. Kocsis threw out phrases and vocabulary like, "Jets of highly energetic energy beams," "Accretion discs," "Magnetic flux lines," "Event horizons" and "Naked singularities."

Black holes, he explained, are at the center of every galaxy, but we can't see them yet, though we will likely be able to do so in the future. We can see their effects; distorted stars behind the holes and spirals of gasses sucked into them, though not the holes themselves.

Kocsis went on to explain that the term black hole is a rather clumsy phrase. It's neither black nor a hole.

"It's not black because it gives off some radiation," he said. "It's not a hole because the center is a 'singularity,' which no one knows what it is; it could be a tunnel to another universe."

"It is now thought that black holes are instrumental to the structure of our universe," Kocisis said. "If there was one close to us, even light years from us, we'd be gone."

An audience member asked if he would voluntarily enter one, if he could. He wouldn't.

The audience varied in their ability to digest and contribute to the presentation. This is sort of the point. Kocsis said that the shows are catered to all ages though Della Rosa countered him.

"It's very hard to have a talk for everybody," she said. "To talk to people from five years to adults would be difficult."

However the visuals alone can be entertaining for younger participants, and those who are curious about genuinely furthering their astronomy education are welcome to ask questions and interact with other knowledgeable attendees.

The September Planetarium show will be given by FOMDP board member Ken Fix. Fix will be speaking on the topic of, "Ares, Mars and the Three Robotic Rovers." According to the Planetarium's website, Fix will share some "Mythology and information about Mars and the surveyors and rovers which have and continue to explore Mars."

Over the last year and a half, Fix has given a series of mythology presentations, starting with the planet Mercury. September's show will be covering some territory previously explored during a Mars presentation, but with the addition of material about the rover Curiosity, that landed on Mars this August. Fix explained that the other two Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, are the size of coffee tables, compared to Curiosity, which is more like a small Sport Utility Vehicle. Though Spirit and Opportunity were advancements from the Mars Viking landers from the 1970s, they are limited in the distance they can explore.

"Opportunity is still moving," Fix said, but "Spirit is stuck in a sand trap. There isn't a way of getting it out."

The Ares part of the presentation comes from Greek mythology.

"Ares is the name of the chaotic god of war and conflict," Fix said. "The Romans changed the name to Mars, but essentially it's the same God, with the same attributes."

The show begins at 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 25.


Juneau Community Schools helps out with scheduling and printing; the school district does maintenance on the room, but the volunteers are the stewards of the planetarium. The group also collects money for necessary repairs, but the machine is old, and in a digital world, parts are expensive and hard to come by.

Joyce Kitka of Community Schools said there is only one person in the United States that does maintenance on the "star ball." Volunteers recently bought two new bulbs on e-bay, she said.

A missing lens means there are sometimes two suns in the sky, and planets don't always move where they're supposed to.

"It's got problems, but it still functions to some degree anyway," said John Kremers. "It's getting old; the light bulbs are kind of weak that project the stars... they wear out after a while. You can't buy them anymore ... so it's kind of one of those things that at some point the school system will make a decision."



October's Planetarium show will be given by John Kremers, the FOMDR board treasurer. Kremers' presentation, "Bad Astronomy," will cover the misconceptions people have about astronomy.

For more information on the Marie Drake Planetarium, including upcoming shows dates and topics, the history of the Planetarium or for information on how to help with funding a new projector, visit www.mariedrakeplanetarium.com.

Amanda Compton is the staff writer for the Capital City Weekly. She can be reached at [email protected]


2011

January 21- Juneau Empire
Planetarium presents local astronomy poetry contest

In celebration of April as Global Astronomy and National Poetry month, the Marie Drake Planetarium is sponsoring an Astronomy Poetry Contest, open to all Juneau residents.

The poetry contest is a new project for the planetarium and organizers said they look forward to reading entries. “We’re sure they will be ‘out of this world,’” they said.

Each poem must be original, and each participant may enter up to three poems. Entries must include a title, the author’s name category and grade (for youth entries). Poems must be appropriate for a general audience of all ages and will not be returned. Judging will be
done by planetarium volunteers. Winners will receive a Marie Drake Planetarium bumper sticker.

2010

January 1

Journey through space by Mary Catherine Martin

Under a 30-foot starry dome, planetarium volunteers 'alter time and bend it to our will'


That decision will most likely come whenever the Marie Drake building is renovated, he said.

"It's really sad, because it's an incredible facility," said Kitka. "We want to make sure it's protected because it's virtually impossible to repair."

Despite the needed improvements, the aging planetarium retains its capacity to "alter time and bend it to our will," as Branch puts it.

"You can learn a lot by going outside and looking at the stars," said Kremers. "This gives you an opportunity when the stars aren't always available to learn about the constellations, how the planets work, how the sun interacts with the Earth in its orbit. It's also beneficial because it encourages kids that may not have any knowledge to seek more information ... and some might go on to have more interest in science than they might otherwise."

One of those kids is 9-year-old Isabella Bugayong, who helps with the raffle and the star machine. She also designs posters.

"I like it," she said. "I'm interested in the planets."

The Bugayongs started coming several years ago because it was close and free, said Isabella's mother, Mindy. "It's always been fun," she said.

The family also now seeks out planetariums on vacation, recently visiting the California Academy of Sciences.

The planetarium is also regularly used by a class at Yaakoosge Daakahidi Alternative High School, occasionally by some Juneau School District teachers, by the University of Alaska Southeast and individual groups like the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts.

"We try to accommodate as much as we can if groups want to (come)," said Kremers. "We welcome groups to call us if they have special needs."


Here is link to article in newspaper:  Journey through space


January, 2010  
Rare moon a treat for infant 2010

December 15
Name a star with the Alaskan Star Registration!
By Cristina Della Rosa | For the Capital City Weekly

JUNEAU - Everyone can be a star!

You can rename a star using a person's name or nickname or with the name of an organization. The name of the person the star is being "renamed" will be recorded in the Marie Drake Planetarium Star Registry (a Star Atlas) next to the star's location.

The certificate includes the logo of the Marie Drake Planetarium and Alaska's state flag.

The certificate includes a real star number and the star's celestial address. This a fun novelty gift suitable for any occasion. However, you are not really buying a star. The only organization that can name stars is the International Astronomical Union (IAU) and they don't sell the rights to stars. NASA does not sell stars either.

These certificates are available at planetarium meetings and events for $3.

Certificates are also sold on eBay for $7 (free shipping worldwide). Search "Name a Star Alaskan Star Registration".

Cristina Della Rosa, the webmaster for the Marie Drake Planetarium created the star registration certificate as a fundraiser for the planetarium. The planetarium is run by volunteers and its only current source of income are donations from people who attend shows. Planetarium shows are always free. The planetarium has a one hour show the last Tuesday of every month and other shows and events periodically. The planetarium also provides free shows to school groups and other organizations. More information is available on website: MarieDrakePlanetarium.com, or e-mail [email protected]


December 19

Celebrating Winter Solstice by Kate Troll

December 15
By Cristina Della Rosa | For the Capital City Weekly


JUNEAU - Everyone can be a star!

You can rename a star using a person's name or nickname or with the name of an organization. The name of the person the star is being "renamed" will be recorded in the Marie Drake Planetarium Star Registry (a Star Atlas) next to the star's location.

The certificate includes the logo of the Marie Drake Planetarium and Alaska's state flag.

The certificate includes a real star number and the star's celestial address. This a fun novelty gift suitable for any occasion. However, you are not really buying a star. The only organization that can name stars is the International Astronomical Union (IAU) and they don't sell the rights to stars. NASA does not sell stars either.

These certificates are available at planetarium meetings and events for $3.

Certificates are also sold on eBay for $7 (free shipping worldwide). Search "Name a Star Alaskan Star Registration".

Cristina Della Rosa, the webmaster for the Marie Drake Planetarium created the star registration certificate as a fundraiser for the planetarium. The planetarium is run by volunteers and its only current source of income are donations from people who attend shows. Planetarium shows are always free. The planetarium has a one hour show the last Tuesday of every month and other shows and events periodically. The planetarium also provides free shows to school groups and other organizations. More information is available on website: MarieDrakePlanetarium.com, or e-mail [email protected]

JUNEAU - Everyone can be a star!

You can rename a star using a person's name or nickname or with the name of an organization. The name of the person the star is being "renamed" will be recorded in the Marie Drake Planetarium Star Registry (a Star Atlas) next to the star's location.

The certificate includes the logo of the Marie Drake Planetarium and Alaska's state flag.

The certificate includes a real star number and the star's celestial address. This a fun novelty gift suitable for any occasion. However, you are not really buying a star. The only organization that can name stars is the International Astronomical Union (IAU) and they don't sell the rights to stars. NASA does not sell stars either.

These certificates are available at planetarium meetings and events for $3.

Certificates are also sold on eBay for $7 (free shipping worldwide). Search "Name a Star Alaskan Star Registration".

Cristina Della Rosa, the webmaster for the Marie Drake Planetarium created the star registration certificate as a fundraiser for the planetarium. The planetarium is run by volunteers and its only current source of income are donations from people who attend shows. Planetarium shows are always free. The planetarium has a one hour show the last Tuesday of every month and other shows and events periodically. The planetarium also provides free shows to school groups and other organizations.


2009

My Turn: Hubble Telescope and the average person by Wall Olson
 

2008

December 17, 2008
EXPLORING SPACE by Katie Spielberger - Capital City Weekly Associate Editor

On Tuesday nights, the computer lab at Harborview Elementary School undergoes a magical transformation. While the computers sleep, volunteers turn the domed ceiling into the night sky.

For years, Juneau residents have been able to see the stars even on rainy days, thanks to the Marie Drake Planetarium and the volunteers who have kept it going.

John and Dolly Kremers have been volunteering at the planetarium for the past three years, inspired by the passion of former volunteer Michael Orlove.

"Michael would always say it's like being behind the mind of the Wizard of Oz," John said, indicating the console that controls the "starball."

The starball is the centerpiece of the planetarium, a metal bulb with more than 1,400 holes which projects stars, planets, the sun and moon in the right positions to approximate the night sky as seen by the naked eye.

At the control console in the back of the room, switches and knobs have labels such as "stars," "sun," and "meteors." John expertly operates the wheels controlling the amount of yellow and blue in the "sky" to approximate a sunset, then reveals what the current sky would look like on a clear night.

A typical show will begin with a view of the night sky for that night, the Kremers said. Usually the volunteers will give a special presentation on a specific topic, such as "When galaxies collide."

During the 60's and 70's when the U.S. was engaged in the space race with the Soviets, a number of schools nationwide built planetariums and launched astronomy programs, John said. Among the lucky schools was the new Marie Drake Middle School, where the planetarium was installed in 1967 at a cost of about $70,000, with the support

of then school superintendent Bill Overstreet. The first full-time astronomy teacher, Albert Shaw, also presented public shows.

When Overstreet left his position in 1972, the planetarium fell out of disuse until 1991, when Bill Leighty and Nancy Waterman revived the starball and a group of volunteers formed to offer public programs.

Current volunteers are still eager to welcome new stargazers.

"We want to teach teachers," Dolly said, "but teachers have a lot to do besides learning the starball. We really need to get children involved who want to run the machine."

When the Kremers first started volunteering, they were impressed by the young regulars at planetarium shows, who were quick to name constellations like Leo, Taurus and Pegasus.

"I was just amazed at hearing the little voices (say) 'Oh, that's Orion!'" Dolly said.

Planetarium volunteers are always open to new ideas for themed shows or ways to use the planetarium in unique ways. There have been movie nights with films projected on the 30-foot-wide dome, Valentine's Day celebrations for starry-eyed couples - even an evening of "Yoga Under the Stars."

"Sometimes, we'll have just us show up for the show (and) sometimes the place is packed," Dolly said. Regardless, like the stars in the sky, volunteers are always there.

The first show of the season will be a Holiday Star show Dec. 23 at 6:30 p.m. Planetarium volunteers will discuss the theories about what the wise men saw in the skies Christmas night.

The starball projects the stars, sun and moon onto the planetarium's domed ceiling to create a representation of the night sky as seen by the naked eye. Planetarium volunteers make the stars shine for Juneau residents Tuesday evenings throughout the year. This season's first show is Dec. 23 at 6:30 p.m.

During each planetarium show, volunteers give everyone a free raffle ticket. The winner of the drawing gets to pick a date and a place, and with the help of the starball, everyone gets to travel to see what the sky might look like somewhere else at a different time of year. For those curious about the night sky in the Southern Hemisphere, this is a quick and easy way to travel -  all without leaving rainy Juneau.

2006

January 27, 2006
Student Artist in the Spotlight: Jesse Peterson

May 31, 2006
Juneau makes the map

Star Light, Star Bright by Vanessa Orr for Capital City Weekly

2003

January 26
Chasing the Aurora
Northern lights seekers take advantage of solar activity and clear winter nights

March 9
Touring the Solar System on Foot

June 13
Local groups invited to help with tide gauge by Michael Orelove

2004

Actor, astronomer, church deacon, Eagle Scout graduates from JDHS - Jason Ginter

2002

January 31
Symphony presents music, images of the cosmos
Slide show of Hubble and other photographs accompany performance of Holst's 'The Planets'

February 14
Astronomy buffs seek clear skies over Juneau

March 15
Unusually colorful meteor lights up skies over Juneau Wednesday night


August 30
A trip through the solar system
Local organizations and volunteers bring the planets to Twin Lakes

October 24
Young players stage ancient drama

2001

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1997

2000

1999