Apparently the Inland Northwest has very little interest in the stars as there are only two planetariums in the entire region. There is one at WSU and there is the George Stahl Planetarium in the EWU Science Building.
“Not many people have heard of it,” said Adam John Frank, a Gonzaga graduate student who helps out with the George Stahl Planetarium.
Frank is one of four students currently working at the Planetarium. Along with presenting the night sky to audiences, he also is assisting a martial arts class at EWU and sitting in on a Japanese class for observation.
The George Stahl Planetarium features a 22-foot-high domed ceiling and the ability to transport people to the stars. However, being over thirty years old, the equipment in the Planetarium isn’t exactly the state-of-the-art.
“We really don’t have much of a budget,” said Frank.
The current projection “starball” in the Planetarium was bought used in the seventies. A good replacement would cost the science department over $1 million, said Frank.
“It’s very expensive equipment,” said Frank. “They (the physics department) could spend it on something else like textbooks or lab equipment.”
That doesn’t stop the planetarium from putting on a good show, as every Friday night at 7 p.m. in room 239 of the EWU Science Building, student presenters show people of all ages far off planets and distant galaxies.
“I grew up around scientists so that’s where my knowledge comes from,” said Frank.
However, it is hard to find new presenters for the planetarium because someone with the theatrical talent to talk in front of an audience and have knowledge about the stars is rare, said Frank.
The student presenters also have to worry about adjusting and calibrating the projecting equipment to make sure it reflects the current alignment of stars.
The planetarium does offer private showings if arranged two weeks in advance, but usually Friday is when they get the most diverse audiences. That doesn’t mean they’re big though.
Usually there are just a handful of people, but as many as 50 to 60have packed into the dark room before.
“That’s very uncommon,” said Frank.
Usually the planetarium operates at a financial loss to the department simply because no one really knows about it.
“If we can never turn a profit, it could be lost to the public forever,” said Frank. “If the equipment doesn’t get updated sooner or later, it could become irreparable.”
Presentations will continue until Nov. 25 and then the Planetarium will shut down for winter break. EWU students are admitted for free with their Eagle card, while adults get in for $3 and children (5-12) can get in for $2.