Stargazers welcome for family night at the Waubonsie Valley High School Planetarium

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Local residents could get a closer look at the night sky last Friday evening without needing help from a telescope. The Waubonsie Valley High School Planetarium once again opened its doors to the public for a “Family Night” led by science teacher Stephanie Rybka.

A star projector, nicknamed “Big Blue Guy,” helped transform the domed building into a learning opportunity for aspiring astronomers.  The latest edition of the monthly event focused on Native American star stories.

“There are so many fascinating ways of looking at the sky. No two people look at the same sky and come up with the same images,” said Rybka. “I think it’s particularly fascinating to see how the Native Americans looked at the same sky we see today and have all of these amazing pictures in their minds and in their stories.”

Unique opportunity

Rybka says many “Family Night” attendees were visiting the planetarium for the very first time. In her experience, guests are often pleasantly surprised by the indoor theater, and how much they can learn by viewing images of the cosmos.

“I feel that there are a lot of misconceptions about a planetarium. A lot of times, people will come and ask where the telescope is. That’s an observatory, we don’t actually house a telescope,” said Rybka. “When people arrive at the planetarium, they’re often a little confused, but as soon as those lights go off and the stars appear, everyone just enjoys that moment of seeing and enjoying the night sky.”

There are only a handful of planetariums in Illinois, and only two are owned and operated by a school district.

“I’ve seen stars before, but I don’t think I’ve ever been to a planetarium before,” said Eleanor, a 10-year old attendee who visited with her scout troop.

Educating aspiring astronomers

Not all “Family Night” guests were first-time visitors. Chouinard Chimniak is a graduate of Waubonsie Valley High School who says her love of the planetarium started at an early age.

“Not only do the kids at the high schools benefit, all the middle schools and grade schools in the district get to come and take field trips here. I remember coming here in kindergarten and first grade and getting to see the stars,” said Chimniak. “It just starts that very young, and it follows the kids all the way through their high school careers in this district.”

Teaching community members, young and old, more about the Milky Way is one of the primary focuses of “Family Night.”

“I think that is my ideal goal, is that people walk away and they want to know more,” said Rybka. “Maybe they do a Google search, maybe they download an app to check out the night sky in their own backyard.”

More chances to see the stars

The next “Family Night” program will be a short holiday show geared towards younger kids, scheduled for December 8.

You can see a full list of this year’s events on the IPSD 204 website.

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