Heads Up: Sunday night’s ‘supermoon’ will dazzle, but stars shine anytime in planetariums

8/10/2014
BY RONEISHA MULLEN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Michael Cushing, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Toledo, inside the Ritter Planetarium where he is the director.
Michael Cushing, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Toledo, inside the Ritter Planetarium where he is the director.

Nestled between Stranahan and McMaster halls on the University of Toledo’s main campus is one of the few places in Toledo where you can gaze at the night sky in the middle of the day.

Ritter Planetarium, outfitted with a state-of-the-art digital projector, can create images of stars and planets and any location on earth at any given time. It’s also capable of transporting you through space to view the wonders of the universe.

“Our particular system can put more than just stars in the sky,” said Michael Cushing, planetarium director and associate professor of physics and astronomy at UT. “We’re also able to show full dome videos and programs.”

The system makes visible stars that cannot be seen by the human eye, Mr. Cushing added.

Planetariums are different from observatories, which use telescopes to view the sky in real time. Planetariums use computer programs to recreate a projection of the night sky on domed ceilings.

Ritter Planetarium and Observatory at the University of Toledo.
Ritter Planetarium and Observatory at the University of Toledo.

So, while you’ll have to visit an observatory or use a telescope to see real stars in the sky, you’ll have no problem viewing tonight’s “supermoon.” For the second time this summer, the moon will be at its biggest and brightest as it swings closer to Earth. A third supermoon will occur on Sept. 9.

The moon will come within 224,000 miles of Earth and will appear 14 percent larger than normal. These rare incidences draw plenty of hype and admiration from skywatchers who think the supermoon looks more dazzling; however, that’s an optical illusion, Mr. Cushing said.

“It’s not any bigger. It just looks that way,” Mr. Cushing said. “In this case, the Earth is off-center during this ellipse and the moon gets closer. During a supermoon, the moon is a full moon and it’s closer to Earth.”

Planetarium programs

Ritter Planetarium and Brooks Observatory at the University of Toledo
Public programs are offered on Friday evenings throughout the summer and start at 8:30 p.m. During the academic year, programs are offered at 1 p.m. on Saturdays. Admission is $7 for adults and $5 for children, seniors, and UT community members. Children under 4 are admitted free. Doors open 30 minutes before the show. If the weather permits, viewers can go to the observatory to view the actual sky. Information: utoledo.edu/nsm/rpbo/.

Appold Planetarium at Lourdes University
Field Trip to the Moon will show at 7:30 p.m. on the following Saturdays: Sept. 13, 27; Oct. 18, 25 and Nov. 8 and 22. Admission is $5 and $4 for children and members of the Lourdes community. Make reservations at: 419-517-8897 or planetarium@lourdes.edu. Information: lourdes.edu/appold.aspx.

There’s no link to higher crime or bizarre behavior, as perpetuated by myths that swirl every time a super moon appears. A more likely effect is that the additional light from tonight’s moon will wash out the annual Perseid meteor shower expected to peak in a few days.

“You see about 100 meteors per hour in a dark sky” Mr. Cushing said. “But that [lunar] brightness makes the sky brighter and you can’t see as many because they’re too faint.”

Light pollution in a city the size of Toledo can often make it difficult to see the stars. Because of this, it’s easy to forget that there is a whole universe surrounding us, Mr. Cushing said. Ritter Planetarium, along with Appold Planetarium at Lourdes University and the planetarium at Rogers High School, allows visitors to see the starry sky in absence of light pollution as well as simulated astronomical events including meteor showers.

“Planetariums are a way of getting access for people who don’t know what a dark sky looks like. You can simulate a night sky as it should be seen,” Mr. Cushing said. “In New York City, you won’t ever see a dark sky [because of light pollution], but if you live in the middle of Iowa, you’d see it all the time.”

The stars may be fake in the skies of the Rogers High School planetarium, but the lessons viewers learn are real, said Kelly Welch, principal at Rogers, where each year, more than 100 students elect to take an astronomy course.

“It’s a big asset and it’s something we’re excited to have,” said Ms. Welch, adding that Rogers is one of the few high schools in the state to have its own planetarium. Right now the facility is only available to students at the school, but “we’re really trying to build up its use across the district and eventually the community. It’s really something to see.”

Contact RoNeisha Mullen at: rmullen@theblade.com or 419-724-6133.