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Madison Metropolitan School District

Madison Skies Blog

Madison Sky at Dusk

This blog contains notes and brief articles about astronomy from the Madison Metropolitan School District Planetarium, Madison, WI, USA.

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Note: Most of our shorter updates go to Facebook and Twitter and short articles are posted on this blog.  We also have an Email List if you are interested in receiving updates via email.

Ben Senson photo

Hello Planetarium fans, welcome to the new academic year and a recently upgraded... OK, literally today as I right this... planetarium Digistar 7 system.  All new video cards, etc to make the system even more capable of engaging and inspiring the mind and soul, so exciting!!

And, drumroll please, we have a new Planetarium Director!

With Geoff's retirement at the end of last year we lost one of the most gifted, talented, dedicated, and inspirational planetarium leaders.  That might have been troubling for many of you, but fear not, the "new guy" has been around for all of Geoff's career and they have been collaborators for all things planetarium for many years.

So, look forward to meeting Ben Senson the next time you visit the Planetarium.

A little background on Ben... 

He has been a science teacher at Memorial High School for many, many years... teaching Earth Science, Integrated Science, General Physics, AP Physics, PLTW Aerospace Engineering and Astronomy.  He has also been an instructor for the introductory astronomy courses at Madison College.  Ben's work in the planetarium field and astronomy has also included a short stint as the Co-Director of the MMSD Planetarium & Observatory.  It was Ben who wrote the proposals and worked through the implementation of the MMSD Observatory located in the school forest.  At its creation, it was the only remotely controllable telescope dedicated to K-12 observing in the world.   Most recently, Ben has shared participation in the NITARP (NASA/IPAC Teacher Archival Research Program) experience as Geoff had done before him.  For Ben this involved using multiple sources of archival data to identify and catalog young stellar objects (YSOs) in an object referred to as IC 417 or the Spider Nebula.

"I can't wait to meet all of you again, or for the first time, as you return to the Planetarium.  Right now the push is on to get my first public events planned and executed.  We have had our first big cleanup from the construction over the summer, have the installation of Digistar 7 going in today, and have gotten the reservation system for schools and groups back up and running.  I have a lot more to get accomplished with a telescope loaner program reservation system, space reorganization, public shows, astronomy club on the "must do ASAP" list.  And finally, I will continue the fantastic work that Geoff has done to keep the MMSD Planetarium up to date and capable of delivering cutting edge experiences to our guests.  A hearing loop system and new projectors are next on the list for much needed facility upgrades, so I will continue to seek the support needed to implement those plans.  That means your support for the Planetarium is as important as always as we work toward regaining the pre-covid capabilities and impact of what the Planetarium does in this community.  Geoff created a beautiful and capable program... those are big shoes to fill... but I am very excited for the challenges!"

Until our next update, peace and clear skies!

Landing on Mars

Our Landing on Mars public virtual event explores missions arriving at Mars from three different countries. The following links are referenced in the program and are listed here for you to explore after the program:

Observing the Moon in Binoculars

The Moon, our closest celestial neighbor, is a beautiful sight in the night sky. Many people have binoculars, and the Moon is a great binocular target. I've created a video in honor of International Observe the Moon Night, Saturday, September 26, 2020. I love the thought of people around the world, united by gazing up at the same Moon. 

This video, Observing the Moon in Binoculars, provides tips for now to observe the Moon in binoculars. It provides tips for how to see more detail, and what types of features you can hope to see. Features include maria, highlands, craters, and a way to imagine Jack and Jill on the Moon.

If you didn't catch the Moon on this night, don't worry. Sites like allow you to enter your location, and they tell you when the Moon rises and sets so that you can look for it. 

The video may also be helpful for students who are learning about the Moon, phases of the Moon, and patterns of Earth and sky. Good luck! Enjoy!

Moon over Madison

Credit: John Rummel

The live virtual planetarium event on Friday night, May 29th was fun, and it was great to see so many people join us. You can view the recording of this event here. Special thanks to my co-hosts John Rummel, Bob Hamers, and Ben Senson. And thank you, Ben and Bob, for the live views of the Moon through your telescopes!

There are so many amazing online resources to help you explore the Moon that I wanted to share some of my favorites so that you can continue to investigate our celestial neighbor.

Supermassive Black Hole

Supermassive black hole at the heart of the galaxy M87.

Credit: Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration

In the April 2019 public planetarium shows, we featured the fulldome film From Earth to the Universe. We also talked about the exciting announcement from the previous week — the first image of a black hole. Black holes are hard to wrap your brain around. Below you will find links to help you understand what you are seeing in the image.

  • Article on the Event Horizon Telescope website explaining the image.
  • Zoom in video from viewing the entire galaxy down to the center of the galaxy where the black hole is found.
  • Excellent video from Veritasium explaining what we are seeing in the image. This is from before the announcement was made, and isn't referring directly to M87, but still very helpful. He has also produced an update video after the announcement.
Mars Curiosity Rover

Curiosity Selfie (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

In our March public planetarium shows we're Exploring Mars. There are so many incredible resources out there, we hope you will continue to explore Mars on your own after the program! Here are a few of our favorites.

  • Google Mars: Google Earth for Mars.
  • NASA Mars Videos: A host of Mars videos to learn more.
  • NASA Eyes: Explore a model of InSight and more!
  • Mars Trek: This interactive map can take you to landing sites, the path taken by Mark Watney in The Martian movie, and more!