Courtesy of Eli Westerman
On Science Hill sits a dark, domed room with floating constellations overhead. For students still in need of Valentine’s Day ideas, the trek to the Leitner Family Observatory on Prospect Street is worth the romance and education.
On Tuesday evening, the Leitner Family Observatory was open for public viewing, as it is every Tuesday evening and Sunday afternoon. Of the 10 visitors in the room Tuesday, only two were Yale students. Although the telescope portion of the event was closed due to cloudy skies, the event showcased a planetarium presentation and featured a movie on solar storms — large explosion’s in the sun’s atmosphere which interact with Earth’s magnetic field. With observatory attendance varying from 10 to 100 people depending on season and weather, Michael Faison, professor of astronomy and director of the planetarium, said their staff’s main goal is to attract more Yale students.
“With outreach, we just want to entertain, educate and inspire the public,” Faison said.
Joey Schmitt GRD ’18, an astronomy Ph.D. student who lectured during Tuesday’s presentation, noted that when the telescope portion is available for public viewing on clear days, the observatory draws a higher volume of attendants, mostly families and New Haven residents. Schmitt added that they try to update the show every month, including different constellations and planets visible in the night sky during that evening’s showing.
Although many students are aware this facility exists, fewer know about the Tuesday and Sunday opportunities. All students interviewed said they knew about the facilities but only one out of seven ever visited the observatory.
Harper Keehn ’16, an Eli Whitney student, explained that he wanted to visit at some point, but he was not sure of the availability dates.
The facility was renovated from the Bett’s House carpenter shop into the observatory in 2004. The planetarium transitioned into a digital theater in 2009, when it received a state of the art SciDomeHD system, which can simulate the universe at any time from any place in addition to streaming high-resolution, full-dome videos.
Faison, who previously worked at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, noted that this system was especially revolutionary for students and the public.
“We want people to find out more about the research at Yale,” Faison said, “It’s also a good experience for our scientists when we have public talks.”
The beginning portion of Tuesday’s hourlong show included a lecture held in the 1,920-pixel planetarium theater on astronomical concepts displayed on the dome ceiling. “Solar Superstorms,” a movie narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch, was displayed during the second portion of Tuesday’s show. Visitors had the option of interacting with the lecturer after the show, and many posed topical questions.
Attendees interviewed voiced pleasure and surprise at the enjoyable experience offered by the observatory.
“I haven’t been to a planetarium since college,” John Faren, a New Haven resident said.“But I think this place is actually really cool.”
The Leitner Family Observatory will be playing “The Martian” in their planetarium theater on March 20.