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From Duluth to across the universe

Program assistant and narrator Kimberly Seifert in front of the lunar exhibit. (Submitted photo)

They're some of the most exotic locales in existence, containing amazing sights that take your breath away. But you can't get to them by bus, boat, or plane. To see these marvels of nature, one must visit the UMD Marshall W. Alworth Planetarium.

The planetarium, located at 1023 University Drive in Duluth, consists of a dome theater that holds up to 60 viewers, provides stunning views of faraway galaxies, spacecraft and other stellar phenomena.

"We would like the public to see just how amazing space in general is -- and how space can benefit us in the future with moving forward," program assistant and narrator Kimberly Seifert said.

In addition to the dome, it also has additional viewing space and related displays, as well as the gift shop of the stars.

Travel shows are now in session. These awe-inspiring locations can be admired from a distance any night, when not blocked by clouds and city lights.

Three days a week, the planetarium hosts both free and $3 public astronomy shows. These include realistic recreations of the visible stars and step-by-step location information. These demonstrations showcase the objects of the night sky, and encourage viewers to discover these luminous bodies for themselves.

Part of the display area features the 1999 Mars exploration by the Polar Lander, complete with a scale model. Interstellar probes Voyager I and II are also displayed. Scale models show the relative sizes of our sun and much bigger stars, like the red giant Betelgeuse. Then it's straight to the moon, where a giant telescope is displayed in front of a full-wall Apollo mission moon photo, and a display case with related items.

Currently, the planetarium offers free shows on Wednesdays. Shows on Friday and Saturday cost $3 for adults and $2 for children (6-12), with children under 5 being free at all shows.

Wednesday and Friday dome shows are typically a two-part format. The first part usually features various informative astronomy videos. The second part uses the star machine, which can project more than 1500 stars on the dome above. Episodes of the TV series Cosmos are often shown afterward.

The star show is where the staff and the planetarium really shine. After the black lights, illuminating the fluorescent paintings on the walls are dimmed, the darkness is pierced by many dots of light. Using the simulated stars, the presenter shows how to find key night sky objects, depending on the season.

"One of the benefits of the presentation is they basically point out what's visible at any given time," said Skip Fischer, a frequent attendee and member of the Arrowhead Astronomical Society.

Fischer's recently-found astronomy hobby has been greatly helped by the planetarium's demonstrations and Bob King's community education astronomy courses, offered through ISD 709.

For this season's show, the big dipper and its pointer stars are used as a launching point, to land on many key constellations, explaining their basis in Greek myth. The show then shoots right past our galactic boundaries and shows how to located the Andromeda Galaxy. This galaxy-next-door is still 2.5 million light years away.

The viewer who learns this might want to immediately get up and find this object in the sky, attempting to wrap his mind around the immense magnitude of space.

"It's one important way to keep people interested in astronomy and space, and if people aren't interested, hopefully we get them hooked," said programs director Aaron Slonecker.

In October, a variety of videos are planned for the first part of the Wednesday and Friday shows. October 9 will focus like a laser beam on the Fermi-Soudan neutrino research.

On October 18 and 23, pack for a universe tour. For October 18 and 23, the team and the sun have used their respective flares to create the Aurora Borealis show. October 25 and 30 features a close encounter with a UFO show.

"One good way about the way we do shows here is anyone can request a show," Slonecker said.

"Stellar Saturdays" are mostly full-dome movies. The shows are held at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Currently the 2 p.m. show is "Hercules and Other Superhero Stars." The 7 p.m. show is "Space Dreams."

Free "Stellar Saturdays" tickets can be obtained by donating Lego blocks to the planetarium, to be used in the free Lego Space Workshop, on October 26 from 3 to 6 p.m. If more blocks are donated, more children can attend and build objects to be displayed.

Other less frequent events include outside stargazing. There are periodic series, such as Bob King's astronomy course. Get the most recent information by "Liking" the Facebook page for UMD Marshall W. Alworth Planetarium, visting www.d. umn.edu/planet or calling 218-726-7129.

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