Ward Beecher Planetarium Opening Weekend 2017

Have you ever been to the Ward Beecher Planetarium? This year our planetarium is celebrating its 50-year anniversary! It’s even more exciting that over the summer the planetarium staff have been working hard to bring some exciting changes for the public.

The planetarium has recently purchased a new video projection system with assistance of a generous donation from the Beecher Foundation.

“We have a brand new SkySkan Definiti video system – we will put it through its paces and show you what you can expect for years to come,” said planetarium lecturer Tiffany Wolbrecht.

Planetarium Opening Weekend

The new addition will allow the planetarium to revolutionize their shows. It provides viewers with a brighter and higher resolution as well as a higher contrast. If that doesn’t already sound great, the system also renders 3D models in real time.

“This means that the planetarium can use its dome to travel anywhere in the universe in a matter of seconds,” said Wolbrecht. “The new system will provide variety to our live programming, but we will have new pre-recorded shows to share too.”

There will be multiple new additions to the planetarium’s season. This year’s new show it titled “Moons: Worlds of Mystery.” The show will premiere in February and is one of seven brand new shows the planetarium will be offering to the public.

The planetarium will also be bringing back their guest lecture series with two new lectures. The first, on November 3, 2017, is entitled “Galileo, Shakespeare, Van Gogh: Creative Reactions to the End of the World.” The second, on March 23, 2018, is entitled “A Quark’s Life.”

This year the planetarium will be holding their Opening Weekend lectures on Friday, September 22, 2017 at 8:00PM and Saturday, September 23, 2017 at 2:00PM and again at 8:00PM. The Opening Weekend is the kick off to their exciting new season and also where the new Sky-Skan Definiti Theater system will be premiered. If you plan to go, the doors do not open until 30 minutes prior to each showing. Seating is first come, first seated.

For more general information about the planetarium, you can peruse their website here. You can also keep up to date with the Ward Beecher Planetarium by following them on Facebook.

The Ward Beecher Planetarium and CosmoQuest – A Partnership with NASA

Earlier in the year, it was announced that Youngstown State University’s Ward Beecher Planetarium received funding through a cooperative agreement with NASA, to work with Southern Illinois University Edwardsville on CosmoQuest.

cq-logo“CosmoQuest was developed in 2012,” said Dr. Patrick Durrell, Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at YSU. “We call it an online research facility. It’s a website, cosmoquest.org, where you can learn astronomy, you can take classes, you can find materials for teachers, and more.”

One of the things that makes CosmoQuest fairly unique is the idea of citizen science—making the average person into a helpful contributor to science.

“There are little projects where you can get the everyday public involved,” said Dr. Durrell. “They can go online with a little bit of training and they can take part in science. So CosmoQuest was sort of developed on all of those things, to not only—like many other places—try to educate people about astronomy and space science, but also to get people involved.”

The full grant over five years totals around $11.5 million, of which YSU is receiving $650,000. The funding has gone toward new computer work stations, render farms, full-dome cameras, animation equipment, and an additional member of the planetarium team, digital content designer Alexa Alpern.

With these new and updated resources, the planetarium can now produce more content for the planetarium and for the CosmoQuest project.

“Instead of creating one show in two years, we’re going to start creating shorter things and more of them, because some of these shows for the high-end systems can cost $8-10 thousand each,” said Dr. Durrell.

What this means is that the Ward Beecher Planetarium will create a variety of short videos and animations that other planetariums will be able to use and incorporate into their own shows for free. Many other planetariums don’t have the money to buy new shows or the equipment to create full shows, and that’s where CosmoQuest comes in.

“NASA wants to get the word out,” said Dr. Durrell. “Science isn’t really science until you let somebody know about it.   Our part of the project is getting the word out through the planetarium.”

Fully equipped with updated technology and experienced faculty and staff, we can expect some great new educational content from the Ward Beecher Planetarium in the coming months and years, thanks to funding from NASA and this partnership with CosmoQuest.

The Ward Beecher Planetarium Welcomes Alexa to the Team!

Originally from Ocean City, Maryland, Alexa Alpern holds a bachelor’s degree in applied media arts and computer animation from Edinboro University. The best part? She is the newest member of our Ward Beecher Planetarium team!

As part of the WB Planetarium’s recent grant with NASA and CosmoQuest, Alexa has been hired as the Digital Content Designer and Animator. She creates and alters digital content that can be displayed inside full-dome planetariums.

“There will be2D and 3D animated pieces,” said Alexa, “meaning some are CGI like How to Train Your Dragon or Shrek, and some are 2D like Beauty and the Beast or Mulan.”

Not only does she create animations and original artwork, she also edits and composites photos from telescopes and other images that must be altered for planetariums.

“Currently for CosmoQuest, I will be beginning to create and edit a new trailer to represent the CosmoQuest project,” said Alexa. “Throughout this project I will be video compositing and editing and utilizing animations to complete the short representative film.”

CosmoQuest is a great resource for planetariums around the world because people like Alexa can create planetarium-formatted content for anyone to use at no cost. Full-dome shows can be incredibly expensive, so having this sort of open source library of content is an excellent educational resource.

While studying animation at Edinboro University, Alexa worked together with planetarium director Dr. David Hurd to recreate an original slide-based planetarium showin a new digital format. The show, The World at Night, was fully produced and published and made appearances at two Great Lakes Planetarium Association (GLPA) conferences as well as in-house public showings throughout the year. After that first show was created, she gained a lot of interest in developing more full-dome content.

Alexa AlpernNo stranger to hard work, Alexa was a Zumba instructor and she was in Olympic figure skating training for 13 years, training under Olympic medalists Ron Ludington and Barbara Roles Williams! She also keeps up with her own artwork; she’s been working on her own animated television series in her free time.

Last year, Alexa won the George H. Nicholas Memorial Animation Scholarship for Excellence in Animation. To see some of her artwork, awards, and professional experience, check out her portfolio!

The Ward Beecher Planetarium Celebrates 50 Years of Education

planetarium then and nowThe Ward Beecher Planetarium was first opened to the public in March 1967. This year, for the entire academic year, we are celebrating its fiftieth anniversary or its fiftieth birthday if you prefer.

“We’re making March the anniversary extravaganza month—every weekend we’re doing something special—but we’re kicking off the celebration this semester,” said planetarium lecturer Tiffany Wolbrecht.

In the coming months, the planetarium will feature audience favorites as well as brand new content. The Mahoning Valley Astronomical Society will be visiting to talk about telescopes, the very popular Laser Weekend and First Night shows are coming this winter, and special guests will be making appearances.

“In March, we are having an alumni weekend where we bring back a lot of people who have worked in the planetarium over the course of the fifty years, including Warren Young, who was the very first planetarium director when the planetarium opened in 1967,” said Tiffany.

During this special weekend in March will be a unique lecture called Skywatch: Then and Now, which highlights what was known about space and the night sky in 1967 compared to the things we know now.

Beginning in February, the Ward Beecher Planetarium is offering a short lecture series to the public; one lecture each month until May.

“We are bringing in professional astronomers to talk about their areas of research,” said Tiffany. “They are areas of astronomy that are hot topics right now that people are really interested in.”

If there is a lot of interest in these lectures, it is something that will continue to be offered in the future with more astronomers and more topics.

Curt Spivey, planetarium engineer and lecturer, reminds us that Ward Beecher wanted the planetarium to be a free educational resource for everyone in the area, and that is what it remains today.

“We are highlighting the past, celebrating the present, and going to the future,” said Curt.

Join us in celebrating the past fifty years of the Ward Beecher Planetarium and looking forward to the next fifty years, whatever that may bring. Visit their website for more information and a schedule of events.

Welcome Tiffany Wolbrecht to the Planetarium Crew!

Tiffany WolbrechtFresh out of grad school, Tiffany Wolbrecht is Youngstown State University’s new planetarium lecturer.

She has a bachelor’s degree in physics from Pennsylvania State University and a master’s degree in education from Edinboro University.

Tiffany became interested in this position after working at a smaller planetarium as a graduate assistant.

“I was a grad student out there and I started to work at the university’s planetarium there and I fell in love with it. I loved it. I’ve always loved astronomy,” said Tiffany.

The timing on this position couldn’t have been more perfect for her. The previous planetarium lecturer, Sharon Shanks, was retiring right when Tiffany was graduating and ready for the job. Tiffany was nervous but eager to start filling those shoes.

Right now she is working on becoming familiar with all of the current shows as well as incorporating her own ideas into them and creating new shows. She also wants to pull in an older audience by reaching out to high school groups.

“I want to nurture and grow the younger audience that we have, but I think there’s this misconception that it’s for elementary ed, you know; we get kindergarteners and third graders a lot but not very many above fifth grade,” said Tiffany.

With Tiffany’s goals and motivation for the planetarium, we can’t wait to see what the future holds for our STEM education in the Youngstown community.

“I’m happy to be here,” Tiffany said. “I’m really excited to utilize the planetarium for the university and for the older students, and I want to learn from what Sharon did and build on that and take us in new directions.”

When she’s not on the job, you can find Tiffany watching Star Trek or playing video games.