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Beyond the Stars

Planetarium officially re-opens Friday.

— Named to commemorate the memory of a late local astronaut, the David M. Brown Planetarium will celebrate its grand re-opening with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and a weekend full of activities starting this Friday, Sept. 28.

Seated on the grounds of Washington and Lee High School, the planetarium has provided astronomical educational opportunities for both students and intellectually curious local residents for more than 40 years.

The Friends of Arlington’s Planetarium was formed as a non-profit organization by local residents and helmed by professional astronomer Alice Monet. They banded together to do their part to secure the planetarium’s future. The school board mandated that enough funds be raised to update the planetarium to make it modern and useful. The challenge was to raise $400,000; the deadline was July 30, 2011. With the help of the Arlington Community Foundation, local media, fundraisers, astronomy clubs, volunteers, bake sales, mailings, tweets, philanthropists such as Preston Caruthers and unnumbered supporters both locally and across the country, the Friends were able to make the mark. “We even had children emptying their own piggy banks, bringing in baggies of change,” said Monet. “The school board budgeted another $400,000 to put into the planetarium.”

With these funds the planetarium got a complete make-over including new seats, carpeting, bathrooms, a new screen lining and a new Spitz SciDome HD projector. With recent donations, the Friends were able to procure their first new digital show, “Journey to a Black Hole.” This weekend’s festivities will include a ribbon-cutting ceremony, tours of the new features, performances by local school children, free shows, demonstrations, and even making ice cream with liquid nitrogen.

Monet said the planetarium will “give kids a chance to see what they are missing, to explore what they can’t.” The planetarium is located at 1426 N. Quincy Street, Arlington. For more information about its history, and a schedule of upcoming events visit www.friendsoftheplanetarium.org. And join in the revelry of the weekend and enjoy the fruits of the Friends’ labor, maybe even find out how to help.