By: Jennifer Brandon
K-12 public school students of Escambia and Santa Rosa counties are offered a glimpse into the night sky, and an opportunity to make friends with the stars at Pensacola State College (PSC).
PSC’s 40-foot Planetarium and Space Theater has a high-definition full-dome video system that offers 17 different shows such as an adventure with dinosaurs, an exploration of the human body, a holiday musical that features the classics of the Christmas season, and of course movies about the universe we live in.
“This is the best classroom on campus,” said Billy Jackson the Planetarium Specialist of the eLearning Department. Jackson was hired by Bill Waters for the Planetarium as a temporary employee for the Planetarium 10 years ago. He became a permanent employee of PSC after a couple years of employment.
The everyday operation in the Planetarium is truly a one-man show, and Jackson runs the showings efficiently, but engagingly. He welcomes viewers with a humble and excited presence. His love for the stars is apparent as he takes them on an adventure through the night sky.
“I want kids to make friends with the stars. Astronomy is lifetime learning. I have second-graders that once they leave here after I show them the three stars of Orion, they come back in still knowing how to find them. I want kids to love astronomy, love the stars,” said Jackson.
Jim Larduskey is a volunteer at the Planetarium and can cover for Mr. Jackson if he cannot be there to direct a showing. Larduskey has been officially volunteering since the beginning of the 2016 fall-semester, but has been involved in the astronomy program at PSC for years.
“I took Dr. Wayne Wooten’s Junior Astronomy class at UWF back in the 70’s and that is what got me started in all this,” said Larduskey. Dr. Wooten, PSC professor, was instrumental in building the first Planetarium at the college. It was located where the athletic center is now. Although the old Planetarium could not show movies and viewers could only see the night sky, it began an on-going relationship between PSC and the stars.
The Planetarium has changed hands several times between the sciences throughout the years, but 15 years ago Bill Waters of eLearning took over the program and it has grown exponentially. When Jackson was first hired, the Planetarium was only hosting around 2,500 public school students a year. It now hosts over 10,000 students a year.
“My students loved it, and we will definitely be back,” said Natasha O’Connell, outreach counselor at PACE Center for Girls.
Occasionally the Planetarium will offer free shows to PSC students. This month they are partnering with Stress Less Week at PSC from April 24th-28th and offering PSC students two free shows a day. The first show will begin at 2 pm, in the Planetarium and Space Theater located in building 21.
One will be an educational show, either “Back to the Moon for Good” or “Earth to Universe”, the other showing is a laser light presentation and unique video experience of the classic-rock hit “Dark Side of the Moon” by Pink Floyd. The showings will rotate through the week, so every student will have a chance to watch both educational shows and listen to Pink Floyd twice.
Future showings offered to PSC students will be announced in notifications through Canvas. For any questions or information regarding the Planetarium or its showings please visit: http://planetarium.pensacolastate.edu/ or call (850) 484-2188.