Northcountry Planetarium

Programs & Services

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Elementary & Secondary Education Services

Educational programming is available for all grade levels from pre-kindergarten through high school. Our educational experiences are typically run live, allowing the operator time to interact with the students while utilizing the capabilities of the star theater to produce a realistic night sky as well as virtual journeys to celestial phenomena.

Please note that although our school programs are designed to be both academic-level and content specific, individual presentations vary slightly with the age, maturity and experience of each student group.

Programs

Pre-school & Kindergarten

  • Typically runs 30-35 minutes.

Topics and Content

  1. Introduction to the planetarium theater and its equipment.
  2. The Sun’s changing position in the sky as it traces its path from the eastern horizon at sunrise to the western horizon at sunset.
  3. Concept of day and night and the identification of discreet objects seen in the sky throughout a 24 hour period.
  4. Finding and identifying “shapes” in the sky such as those created by the changing phases of the moon (crescent, quarter “D”, etc.) or on the face of the full moon (man-in-the-moon, etc.), and the stars of a constellation image (square, triangle, etc.).
  5. An introduction to simple constellations using a connect-the-dot method of number counting or alphabet progression.
  6. Stories of seasonally appropriate constellations.
  7. A short fantasy journey to the moon, a star or some other celestial phenomena.

Please note that individual presentations vary slightly with the age, maturity and experience of each group.

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Grade 1

  • Typically runs 35-40 minutes.

Topics and Content

  1. The Sun’s changing position in the sky as it traces its path from the eastern horizon at sunrise to the western horizon at sunset.
  2. Indication of the four cardinal directions as they relate to the location of rising and setting objects.
  3. Change in Moon’s appearance and location during the 29.5 day phase cycle.
  4. An introduction to constellations using a connect-the-dot method to “build” stick-like images with stars.
  5. Finding north with the Big Dipper and the North Star.
  6. Learning to discern a star and a planet.
  7. Seasonally appropriate and date specific night sky depicting the moon, planets and stars with suitable constellation stories and telescopic images of specific celestial phenomena.
  8. Apparent movement of the sky during the night ending with dawn and sunrise.

Please note that individual presentations vary slightly with the age, maturity and experience of each group.

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Grade 2

  • Typically runs 35-40 minutes.

Topics and Content

  1. The apparent movement of the Sun, from the eastern horizon to the western horizon, due to the Earth’s daily rotation is demonstrated and explained.
  2. Following sunset, students briefly familiarize themselves with the current evening sky by finding circumpolar constellations and the North Star.
  3. Later, students observe the apparent westward or counter-clockwise movement of constellations throughout the night.
  4. A number of seasonally appropriate constellation stories are shared.
  5. Special attention is given to our lunar neighbor, the Moon. Students learn how to locate and observe the Moon in the sky noting how its appearance changes daily throughout its continuous 29.5 day phase cycle. Students explore possible reasons for lunar phase changes. Students also view telescopic images of the Moon’s surface and discuss its distinctive darker regions and how ancient asteroid impacts created such dark plains.
  6. A brief look at the currently visible planets with telescopic images and possibly a brief fantasy journey out to them will complete this presentation.

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Grade 3

  • Typically runs 40-45 minutes.

Topics and Content

  1. The apparent movement of the Sun, from the eastern horizon to the western horizon, due to the Earth’s daily rotation is demonstrated and explained.
  2. Following sunset, students briefly familiarize themselves with the current evening sky by finding circumpolar constellations and the north star.
  3. Later, students observe the apparent westward or counter-clockwise movement of constellations throughout the night.
  4. Students review how to locate and observe the Moon in the sky noting how its appearance changes daily throughout its continuous 29.5 day phase cycle.
  5. A number myths related to lunar phase changes and those associated with seasonal constellations are shared.
  6. Special attention is given to the concept of the changing of the seasons. Students examine the Earth’s orientation in space relative to the Sun and what role the Earth's axial inclination and its solar orbit play in seasonal changes.
  7. Students will also learn to recognize that the Sun's daily positions and motions in the sky vary with the changing of the seasons.
  8. The change in visible constellations with the seasons as well as the continuous motion of Big Dipper throughout the night sky is demonstrated.
  9. Lastly, a brief look at the currently visible planets with telescopic and space probe views will complete this presentation.

Note: The causes for solar and lunar eclipses may be included if desired.

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Grade 4

  • Typically runs 40-45 minutes.

Topics and Content

  1. The apparent movement of the Sun, from the eastern horizon to the western horizon, due to the Earth’s daily rotation is demonstrated and explained.
  2. Following sunset, students briefly familiarize themselves with the current evening sky by finding circumpolar constellations and the north star.
  3. Later, students observe the apparent westward or counter-clockwise movement of constellations throughout the night.
  4. A number of seasonally appropriate constellation stories are shared.
  5. Special attention is given to our Solar System. First, the Sun is viewed and discussed. Next, students examine, in detail, the eight major planets, comparing terrestrial and Jovian bodies, along with a number of their larger satellites. The minor planetoids such as asteroids, centaurs and Kuiper Belt objects are also viewed along with the smallest members of our Solar System, comets and meteoroids.
  6. Lastly, students will examine the solar nebula hypothesis, currently the scientifically accepted explanation for the formation and evolution of stars and their planetary systems.
  7. The recent discovery, over the past decade, of more than 400 extra-solar planets and how their discovery lends evidentiary support to the solar nebula hypothesis will also be discussed.

Note: throughout this presentation, students will have the opportunity to view numerous visuals including both telescopic and spacecraft imagery as well as animated planetary flyovers.

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Grade 5

  • Typically runs 45-50 minutes.

Beyond the Solar System

  1. An introduction to the current night sky including the locations of the Moon, visible planets, stars and constellations starts this experience.
  2. Next, students are asked to contemplate how ancient cultures perceived the sky and learned to recognized the cyclical motions of the sun, moon and planets adequately to create elaborate solar and lunar calendar systems.
  3. A brief review of the planets, we move outward through our Solar System to arrive in deep space.
  4. From their new distance vantage point, students examine multiple star systems, variable stars, nebulas, globular clusters, black holes and galaxies beyond our own Milky Way.

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Grade 6

  • Typically runs 45-50 minutes.

The Universe

  1. Following a sunset representative of one viewed locally from anyone’s backyard, students identify and observe a variety of the astronomical objects visible in the evening sky.
  2. Students will have the opportunity to view and examine a number of seasonally appropriate astronomical phenomena located within various constellations including our Moon, five naked-eye planets, unique stars, stellar nursery nebula, supernova remnant nebula, black holes, etc.
  3. With the identification of globular star clusters and discreet portions of the Milky Way band, students explore how early astronomers came to realize that the Earth and its star, the Sun, actually belong to one of several million stellar super structures known as galaxies.
  4. Emphasis is given to the concept of distance-in-space with mention of such astronomical yard-sticks as the light-year and parsec.
  5. Known as the Big Bang or expanding universe theory, the scientifically accepted model for the formation of our universe is illustrated and discussed.
  6. This presentation concludes with a demonstration of the apparent movement of the sky throughout the night ending with dawn and sunrise as viewed from Earth.

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Grades 7-12

  • Typically runs 50-60 minutes.

Due to the diverse curriculum requirements for these grade levels (junior-high general science, earth science, chemistry, biology, extra-curricular interest groups, etc.) the needs of the specific student group is usually indicated by the teacher or group leader so that specific topics, content, experiences and demonstrations can be worked into a custom planetarium presentation.

Please note that custom or teacher-designed content requires that the classroom instructor communicate his or her needs directly to the planetarian conducting the program and requires a minimum of two weeks lead time for the acquisition and arrangement of appropriate images, video sources and demonstrations.

Programs for grades 7-12 Students

For students grades 7-12, there are a number of commercial productions available which can be augmented with a brief live tour of the current night sky as long as prior arrangements have been made with the planetarian, these include the following:

Life Cycles

If no request for specific topics or content is communicated to the planetarian, a default presentation entitled Life Cycles is available for grades 7-12.

  1. Life Cycles begins with an introduction to the current night sky with a brief look at the Moon, planets and stars.
  2. The history of astronomy is examined with emphasis on changes made to celestial models over the past few thousand years as astronomical phenomena were observed and more data were collected.
  3. Contemporary theories on star formation and the evolution or life cycles of stars of different masses are visualized on the planetarium dome.
  4. Subsequent to star creation, the formation of planetary systems such as our own Solar System is illustrated and explained.
  5. Stellar super structures, known as galaxies, are examined using a classification method based on their overall physical shape and appearance.
  6. Exotic and highly energetic galaxies and quasars are examined.
  7. Lastly, known as the Big Bang or expanding universe theory, the scientifically accepted model for the formation of our universe is illustrated and discussed.

Navigating with Lewis & Clark

Join Meriwether Lewis & William Clark on their historic three year expedition as they travel westward in the early 1800s exploring the rapidly expanding United States.

Learn how they used knowledge gained from indigenous peoples as well as the sky phenomena and celestial navigation to survey and map America's western frontier between 1803 and 1806.

Skies of Jade

In 1054 a brilliant supernova explosion left a great expanding cloud known as the Crab Nebula. Although this stellar explosion would have been bright enough to have been visible in broad daylight for many days, there is no historic mention of this event in any European records. Why not?

Furthermore, during a period of more than a thousand years, many of the most brilliant and spectacular astronomical events were not recorded in Europe. During this same time period; however, astronomers and scholars in Asia were carefully observing the sky and recoding celestial events.

Some of the most detailed surviving records of historic astronomical events such as comets, eclipses and supernovas have been passed down from the royal observatories of ancient China. Skies of Jade takes a closer look at some of these ancient astronomical records and examines a number of potential reasons why they were not observed or noted in Europe.

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Questions, Comments, Suggestions?

To learn more about the Northcountry Planetarium at SUNY Plattsburgh, please contact

Glenn Myer, Director
Office 218 Hudson Hall
Phone: (518) 564-3166
Fax: (518) 564-3169
E-mail: myerge@plattsburgh.edu