The Marie Drake Planetarium

Where the stars always shine in Juneau, AK

Newspaper Articles - 2007-2009

Articles in Juneau Empire, unless otherwise indicated.


My Turn: Hubble Telescope and the average person
Posted: Thursday, May 28, 2009
By Wally Olson

Recently, among all the economic and political news, scientists and all humans had great news - the Hubble Space Telescope has been repaired and improved. After centuries of human history, from times when for many, the "Medi-terranean" Sea was the "center of all lands," to the challenging idea of Galileo that the Earth was not the center of the universe, we have come a long way on our path to knowledge and verifiable information.

In just a short time, the photos and information provided by the Hubble have transformed our knowledge of our place in the universe. What we have learned is far beyond the comprehension of most of us. We can use a calculator to determine the meaning of a "light year." That is, light travels at 186,000 miles each second. Just multiply seconds, by minutes, by hours, days and years, and the result is a number with many, many zeros behind it. Yet the Hubble telescope has now given us a picture of a slight bit of light that began its journey billions of light years ago.

What does that mean to us average people, making a living, trying to understand our place in the universe and creation? It means that as in the past, we may have to change our thinking, our conceptions and perhaps our beliefs about the real world. Maybe we are not the center of the universe. We see now that our solar system and our planet is just a speck in a particular galaxy that we call the Milky Way. The Hubble telescope was turned and focused for 10 days on an area in space that was apparently empty; it captured light from millions of galaxies that we had never before knew existed.

There are arguments and debates over evolution versus intelligent design. Perhaps that intelligent design is the process of evolution. We now have to take the evidence and try to understand it, and explain it.

What the Hubble telescope has done has been to let us see what a small part of this immense universe we are. We are all inhabitants of a mere speck in this vast universe. But its message and evidence places a huge responsibility upon us if we are to survive as a species and not disappear as have many other species of living creatures on our planet have. That responsibility is that we have to learn to live together with various beliefs, religions, cultures, languages and traditions. There is no room on this little life boat in space for people insisting that all must be my way or no way. That would be a mutiny among humans, and we will all perish. As our president has pointed out, we must find common ground.

As we have learned and seen from the Hubble telescope, we are not the center of the universe. We are a part of it. We are part of the world around us, the plants, animals and other inhabitants of this planet. We have to protect our environment, the world we live in. We have to be good stewards of the land. We have to learn to respect others even if we differ in language, culture, traditions and even beliefs. Our home is planet Earth.

We need to take the photos from the Hubble telescope and hang them on the walls of our houses and offices to remind ourselves who we are, where we fit in the universe. And then, thank those who have improved and enhanced the Hubble telescope, because in the future, with new insights and information, we may again have to re-think many things and accept the reality.

• Wally Olson is an Auke Bay resident.



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.