Outer space visits Murfreesboro

Published 11:22 am Sunday, November 22, 2009

MURFREESBORO — A group of students here got a close up view of the stars…without ever leaving their school.

On Tuesday, the University of North Carolina Morehead Planetarium and Science Center’s portable planetarium rolled into town.

The PLANETS (Portable Learning for All of North Carolina Elementary Teachers and Students) Portable Planetarium Program made a stop at Riverview Elementary School. The inflatable dome is the first fulldome digital video portable planetarium in North Carolina.

Riverview’s Kindergarten classes along with students with special needs were treated to the planetarium experience through a program called “Moving All Around.”

PLANETS Program Science Education Specialist Elysa Corin said in “Moving All Around,” designed for grades K-2, students learn about identifying the moon, sun and certain planets that are visible to the naked eye. The children also learn to recognize a few major constellations and learn some of the ancient Greek and Roman myths that are associated with them. The program allows teachers to reinforce the astronomy lessons to their students by providing them with a package of materials aligned with North Carolina Standard Course of Study. Corin said the goal of PLANETS is to bring the planetarium and astronomy to children 90 miles from Chapel Hill.

“For most of the children it’s the first planetarium experience they have,” she said. “It’s a useful experience especially out here (Murfreesboro), where there’s not a lot of light pollution. This is something they will continue to think about.”

The sight of the large, black, inflatable dome in the school’s gymnasium brought curious looks from both students and educators.

Riverview Principal Patty Hardy stopped in while Corin was setting up the planetarium.

“I love (the idea) of it,” she said. “It’s a chance for the students to go on a field trip without ever leaving school.”

Kindergarten teacher Tonia Chlomoudis said the school had discussed having the planetarium at the school since August, after attending a training program in Northampton County. “Many of these kids may never have a chance to go to a planetarium,” she said. “Reading about it is not the same thing as seeing it for yourself.”

Last spring, PLANETS was piloted for grades K-3 through a North Carolina Space Grant. Additional funding comes from the Chatham Foundation and the University of North Carolina Provost Office. Corin said they hope to expand the program to include 4-6 grades as well.