Program for the May 6, 2014, OAS meeting

Planetariums in the 21st Century

By Jack Dunn


Planetariums were born as a curiosity.  But they have grown to an educational resource of infinite potential.  We'll start with some basic history, and I'll add some of my own history.  I have over 48 years under domes.  But the technology and the profession are rapidly evolving.  I'll start my talk with standard power point.  But my hope is to set up in UNO's dome and give you a taste of where it can go.

Speaker Bio:

My interest in Astronomy and my career in this profession were sparked by a neighbor of my parents in Fremont Nebraska.  Dr. Gilbert Lueninghoener of Midland College got me started.  He also introduced me to the Omaha Astronomical Society back around 1966.  Bob Allen (the UP Railroad one)  was president of the club.  Dr. L. and I went to several meetings in Missouri where we met the legendary Bob Cox of Sky and Telescope.  Cox convinced several of us to try and build a telescope design known as a Schiefspiegler (literally it means "bended mirror design.")  Bob Allen helped us work on the mirrors which were about 5 inches in diameter.  I don't know whatever happened to that original mirror.  At Midland, Dr. L. had also designed the observatory which had three permanent scopes and other portable ones.  Used those for several years to learn observing.  (Light pollution in Fremont wasn't near what it is today).  My favorite scope was a six inch Maksutov known as a Vega Maksutov.  Dr. L. had heard of the company from Cox.  Not the biggest mirror but ease of use was phenomenal.  (No computer guiding in those days BTW - so one had to learn to use setting circles and know the sky).  Turns out I got to use another of the Vegas several years along at another planetarium/observatory.  The flat field was a joy to use.  Unfortunately, the designer of the scopes was also the owner of the company.  He got divorced and somehow his wife got possession of the design details and they never made any more of them.

Over the years I enjoy binocular observing and most places had other telescopes to use.  So I've never had anything large of my own.  When I was in Lafayette, Louisiana on my first planetarium job I started a small club called the Greater Lafayette Astronomical Society.  We called it optical GLAS.  Mostly kids but we had a few adults as well.  After I left Lafayette, it eventually dissolved, but a new club has taken its place there in Lafayette.  When I moved to Lincoln, I joined the Prairie Astronomy Club and have been a member ever since.  I am the current President of PAC.  Back in 1977, I was enlisted by the late Prof. Carroll Moore of Nebraska Wesleyan University to be on the committee that started Hyde Observatory.  I had met Carroll at a MSRAL meeting in Lincoln back in 1970, years before I ended up in Lincoln.

In the past few years I've been working with several members of the Astronomical Society of Kansas City.  They enlisted my help as they were trying to preserve the Gottlieb Planetarium in Kansas City's Science City (in Union Station).  I am the US collaborator of Paul Bourke of the University of Western Australia to teach folks in the US how to use his design for a mirror-based planetarium projection system.  Paul also invented the software used in the system.  Since he is thousands of miles away, it seemed easier to help people in the US by having someone over here who could answer questions.  I've spent many hours talking with and working with Rich Henderson, Bentley Ouseley and Joe Wright and had some great times in Kansas City.  We feel certain, without what they did, the Gottlieb would have closed.  I have spent much of my life doing outreach and astronomy education.  I believe that we need more science knowledge among the public.  We need this understanding more than ever.  Pseudo-science is rampant in pop-culture.  We need to continue to inspire people towards a scientific attitude.  The wonders of the universe are far greater than the silliness of astrology, etc.  I've spent my life telling this story.

The most valuable part of my life began when I met my wife Elizabeth Klimek who was working for Dr. Martin Gaskell, astrophysicist and researcher of super-massive black holes.  Today she is finishing her Ph.D. in Astrophysics through New Mexico State University as part of Dr. Chris Churchill's group.  Her thesis involves the study of galaxy formation and evolution using quasar absorption lines and cosmological simulations.  Hopefully, her degree will happen by this summer and we will look for a new adventure wherever she finds a position.