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Planetarium hosts ‘Out There’ screening about extraterrestrial life

Jack Abbot- General Reporter

The university hosted a planetarium show about extraterrestrial life and how humanity’s understanding of the concept has changed.  

The screening of the movie “Out There” was hosted by the Physics and Earth Science Department and Professor Elliot Horche of the Astronomy and Astrophysics Department. The event took place from 1:50 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 8.   

The planetarium shows have been directed towards students on campus but are open for off campus visitors to attend. There are plans to use it in the future, to invite other schools in the area to visit campus.  

The outside of the planetarium in Morrill Hall. Photo: Jack Abbot

The planetarium has been on campus since the construction of Morrill Hall in 1961. However, recent upgrades have been made to allow this screening to be possible.   

Previously, it operated using only a pinhole until 2023 when a new Starlight Planetarium Projector was installed. This makes the university’s planetarium one of the few lefts to still have a pinhole projector and one of even fewer to use both systems.   

“We have a brand-new digital projector, which is why we can show these great movies in the same space,” Horche said.  

The planetarium has historically been a resource of the Earth Science department. However, they have been working with the Astronomy and Astrophysics Department to make it a more collaborative resource.  

“That’s really culminating right now with our collaboration with the Earth Science Department,” Horche said.  

This collaboration is one of the steps being taken to introduce an Astronomy minor to the university’s curriculum. Astronomy is not currently a field of study offered by Southern.  

“Earlier this academic year, we put in a proposal for an Astronomy minor,” Horche said. “That’s not yet been formally approved but, all signs are looking good so far.”  

The university has a long history with astronomy. It was the first in the United States to view the Sputnik Satellite, an event which is marked by a plaque near the planetarium.  

In 2023, Professor Dana Casetti, another head of the Astrology and Astrophysics Department beside Horche, received the Board of Regents Research Prize for her work with the Hubble Space Telescope. The department also works closely with RECONS Institute and the Lowell Observatory.  

Currently, the only astronomy course offered is “Principles of Astronomy” with the Department of Earth Science. For the introduction of this new minor, several classes will be added, including an astronomy course and a previously discontinued astrophysics course.  

“The third course we created is called ‘Observational Astronomy,’” Horche said. “It’s really the capstone– the kind of icing on the cake for the whole minor– where students will get to use the campus observatory, take data themselves at night with some of the really great resources in the Physics Department.”  

Horche and Casetti have been working to make sure that this minor will be available for science majors starting in the upcoming Fall 2024 semester.   

“I think both earth science and physics see this era as an expansion of what Southern can do in terms of astronomy,” Horche said. 

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