Nearly 600 people attend revamped Astronomy Day

Sami Pathan

Photo by Muhammad Al-Rawi
The Columbia Public School planetarium in RBHS played host to nearly 600 people Saturday, April 28, during its Astronomy Day celebrations. The facility exhibited planetarium shows, telescope clinics, astronomy displays and numerous different types of astronomy memorabilia donated by the Central Missouri Astronomical Association.
“Astronomy day is a nationwide thing, and we’re just using it as an opportunity to show the citizens of Columbia what we’ve got now,” planetarium director Melanie Knocke said. “We’re doing free shows; everything is donated. I’m donating my time and the CMAA has brought in a lot of their own cool exhibits.”
The day kicked off at 2 p.m. with planetarium show topics ranging from ‘The Magic Tree House’ to ‘Earth’s Wild Ride’. Of the almost 600 people who participated, the number itself a record; most were of elementary school age with parents as guides.
“We’ve just had a huge turnout, absolutely huge. We schedule[d] three shows in the afternoon, and we had to do an extra one, and all of them have been full,” Knocke said. “Around two o’clock we had people lined down around the cafeteria. That many people we’ve never had. If we filled the planetarium in years past, we were good. Some shows last year, I think we had six people show up so this really is the biggest group we’ve ever had.”
The CMAA donated space memorabilia was also a high point for many of the visitors. Children and adults looked at newspapers and magazines dating back to the 1960s which highlighted events like the first man in space and the first men on the moon.
CMAA member Randall Durk spent much of his life gathering the tokens because of an interest in space and decided to display them for the benefit of the community at Astronomy Day.
“I’ve collected all of this over my life, but I’ve stopped now that I’m getting old. I’ve always liked this stuff, and it was just a way to satisfy my interest in the subject I suppose,” Durk said. “It’s all really interesting, and it’s just nice to be able to show the area some of these things in this sort of format.”
Part of the celebrations also included a telescope demonstration and lesson where Durk would teach attendees how to use a telescope correctly and focus on different objects in the night sky. However, the cloudy conditions and mind-afternoon rain cancelled that portion.
Nevertheless, RBHS sophomore Andrew Neugarten said he enjoyed his time at the event as both a visitor and volunteer.
“I’ve only been helping out for a couple days actually so far, but I’ve always loved space and it just seemed like a logical place to go and volunteer,” Neugarten said. “The amount of people that showed up definitely surprised me, but it was a really cool event so it made sense.”
Though most of the shows now are geared toward astronomy, there are plans for a future expansion into other science fields as well as increased number of shows. Both depend on the amount of positive feedback from community members.
“I think it’s just a great resource. It’s a place for the community to take their kids to learn about science,” Knocke said. “We’re going to be able to start offering public shows every second Saturday of the month, and we’ll start off with two shows, but we may have to expand that based on the public’s reaction. We’re just trying to test the waters and see what the response is, and it’s been great so far.”
By Sami Pathan