Students at Park Ridge Elementary stand outside Marymount University’s Myhill Portable Planetarium. They were concluding their study of the solar system. From left are D'Brickshaw Davis, Jackson Dixon, Sofia Bragin, Lily Canales, Bailey Gibson, Isabella Mayorga and Chase Krause.
Thanks to a portable planetarium, Marymount University has been taking space to elementary and middle school students. It’s a great way to get them excited about science, said Dr. Eric Bubar, the assistant professor who is in charge of Marymount University’s Myhill Portable Planetarium.
At the end of May, Bubar spent two days at Saint Ann Catholic School, where he presented “Back to the Moon for Good,” a 24-minute planetarium show chronicling teams around the world that are competing for the $30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE. To win, a team must land a robotic spacecraft on the moon, navigate 500 meters over the lunar surface, and send video, images and data back to earth. Bubar has also taken the planetarium to Fort Belvoir Elementary School in Fairfax County and to science fairs.
Marymount got the planetarium last year, thanks to fundraising efforts by Bubar and others. The planetarium, which weighs about 60 pounds, is so small when packed that Bubar can haul it in his Honda Fit. Made of heavyweight plastic and vinyl material, the inflatable dome needs only a 20- by-20-by-20-foot indoor space for use. It can hold about 30 young children or 20 adults.
In the past, Bubar said many schools had analog systems for planetariums that are no longer supported. Converting them to a digital system can be expensive. He said only a few dozen schools throughout the country have the portable planetariums. They typically cost between $25,000 and $30,000, though Marymount was able to purchase a refurbished version because Bubar was comfortable making adjustments.
For more information, or to request a planetarium visit, see www.marymount.edu/mu- planetarium.