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Across the universe

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Take a tour of the vastness of space at the Jordan Planetarium

ORONO The night sky has sparked the imaginations of philosophers, dreamers, scientists and explorers. Learning about the vastness of space is something that many people, young and old, leap at the chance to do. And you can, right in our own back yard.

"Being as small as we are and couched in the bosom of the University it can be difficult to get noticed," said Alan Davenport, the planetarium director and observatory coordinator at the University of Maine's Maynard F. Jordan Planetarium located at Wingate Hall. "The planetarium is quite old. It's been running for 30 years plus now. We've updated a lot of what's inside the planetarium, but it's difficult to go beyond a certain point."

Davenport notes that they upgraded all of the technology that is being used inside, but they can't make the planetarium itself any bigger because "domes don't stretch."

Plans are in the works for a new planetarium with a larger dome to higher-quality video projection system to "do it the way they do in the big city," as Davenport said. But those plans are for about a year or so from now, and this is a story about astronomy, not augury.

An eye towards the unknown

The planetarium has a varied programming schedule that appeals to all, from young children to those who are studying astronomy at the University of Maine.

"In terms of appeal, we hope to have programs that cover the entire spectrum: From primary school and high school and college educational programming that is sometimes more like a class for college astronomy," said Davenport. "But the lion's share of what we do is family fare. It tends to be something everybody can enjoy. It's edu-tainment: educational entertainment. Our primary focus for education specifically is to be a good resource for public school groups that come to us."

Davenport said that many schools take children to the planetarium as a part of filling the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) components that are the new standards for schools in the state.

"There's an entirely new set of standards being developed right now that is going to set the bar for everybody's curriculum nationally," he said.

Most of the shows are "omni-dome" which have been bought through endowments. Davenport said that the endowment allows him to build the planetarium's repertoire a couple shows at a time each year.

He said that the importance of the planetarium is its interactive nature.

"Science education is something that is only done well with interaction and engagement. Science is the language we use to describe everything around us. Our world, ourselves are all described and understood through the language of science," Davenport said. "If you're a good, thinking, educated person, you should look around you and have a good understanding of how things are made. Everyone should be involved. Just as they learn how to read they should be interpreting the world around them in a curious and scientific way."

So, you want to take a field trip?

Are you a local educator and you want to give your students a glimpse into the great beyond? The Maynard F. Jordan Planetarium makes it easy to plan and take your kids on an out-of-this-world adventure.

Before planning the trip, get estimates of the number of children and adults that may be attending; the preferred date of the trip and one or more alternate dates; and titles of the shows you might like to view at the planetarium. Once the date is reserved, you will receive an informational packet confirming the dates, times, programming and directions.

But field trips are more than just one show and then home, right? The website for the planetarium features many alternate educational sites for students and faculty to explore while they're in the area, including the Page Farm and Home Museum, the Hudson Museum and the University of Maine Visitors Center.

There is also an incredible guide to organizing field trips on the site. Check it out at www.galaxymaine.com.

Maynard F. Jordan, the man himself

Jordan was born on Dec. 17, 1892 on Little Cranberry Island, according to the planetarium's history. He was raised and educated in Maine, studying at the University of Maine. He was the director of the planetarium and observatory that bear his name and taught astronomy for 35 years.

The planetarium began construction in 1958 and took several years and was renamed in honor of Jordan in 1993. After he retired, he remained in the Orono and Old Town area and passed away in 1986.

Happenings at the Planetarium

Black Holes Friday Feb. 8 at 7 p.m. Recommended for ages 9 to adult

Explore the history, physics and mystery of black holes. Find out why the attraction is more than just gravitation.

Trip through space, Feb. 10, 2 p.m. Recommended for ages 6 to adult

Take a journey from a sunny back yard into deepest space.

IBEX: Search for the Edge of the Solar System, Feb. 15 and 22, 7 p.m. Recommended for ages 9 to adult

Find out about the boundary that separates our solar system from the rest of the universe.

Earth's Wild Ride, Feb. 17 and 24, 2 p.m. Recommended for ages 8 to 13

A tale of Earth's wonders from a futuristic family.

Two Small Pieces of Glass, March 1 and 8 at 7 p.m. Recommended for ages 8 to adult

Discover the history powers of the telescopes with the astronomers who built them. Find out what you can discover even in your own back yard.

The Little Star that Could, March 3 and 10 at 2 p.m. Recommended for ages 6 to 9

Young sky explorers follow the story of a small yellow star searching for planets of his own, all the while learning about different stars that exist in the universe.

Origins of Life, March 15, 22, and 29 at 7 p.m. Recommended for ages 10 to adult

Live demonstrations of the search for other planets are followed by an extraordinary adventure exploring life on Earth and other possibly inhabited worlds in outer space.

Our Sky Family Recommended for ages 4 to 8

Chat with Father Sun and each of the planets who explain their best features and their place in the sky.

For more information about the Maynard F. Jordan Planetarium, including upcoming shows, gift shop hours and more, visit www.galaxymaine.com.

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