Town & Gown: Love is in the stars at JSU Planetarium
By Ashley Siskey, graduate assistant in JSU’s public relations office

Ask the average person what comes to mind when they think about the stars, and most certainly a variety of answers will surface. From the practical use of stars for navigation to the awe of astronauts traveling in space to the scientific arrangement and naming of constellations, stars have been a part of our culture since the beginning of man. Stars also tell the stories of history. What better time of year than before Valentine’s Day to tell love stories? On Sat., Feb. 9, JSU’s Planetarium will present Space Safari – Love Stories in the Stars. There will be two showings: one at 4 p.m. and one at 5 p.m.

A planetarium is a theatre of sorts – a place where images about astronomy are projected onto a domed screen. JSU’s planetarium is located on the third floor of Martin Hall (next to the library) and is home to monthly programs between December and April. As previously mentioned, February’s program will highlight love stories in the stars. For anyone wary of romantic love this time of year, do not fret: the love stories are not just about romantic love. Love between parents and children, friends, and siblings will all be investigated, as well.

Orion is one character that will be highlighted in the love stories. As one of the more well-known constellations, Orion has stories originating from numerous cultures, not just the Greek culture. There will be lesser known stories like the one of the Shepherd and Weaver, as well. These star-crossed lovers’ story is Chinese in origin and tells a tale reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet.

In March, the theme for the monthly planetarium program will be cosmic snakes. As the legend goes, St. Patrick banished all snakes from Ireland after he was attacked during a forty-day fast. Coinciding with the Irish celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, cosmic snakes is sure to please children and adults alike. The program will also showcase one of its more popular educational programs, Wonders of the Universe.

Guests attending the April program will journey to Egypt and discover the Stars of the Pharaohs. Stars were an integral part of Egyptian life with the most famous example of Egyptian culture intertwining with astronomy being the construction of the pyramids. Internal chambers for the kings and queens often lined up with stars representing immortality and rebirth.

All shows are family-friendly and targeted for viewers five years and up. The planetarium is available for school groups, as well. Kindergarten through twelfth grade classes are welcome to visit and enjoy this local, educational experience.

Dr. Laura Weinkauf, associate professor of physics, oversees the planetarium. “We love having groups of school age children coming in to explore the stars. It’s so much fun – when they first come in there are ‘ooooohhhs’ and ‘ahhhhhhs. Then, nine times out of ten, there are multiple black hole questions. Children and teens are very inquisitive about black holes!” Dr. Weinkauf says. “Our most popular programs are What’s up in the Sky?, which is about the constellations and finding your way around the sky in general; Wonders of the Universe, which is about the birth and death of stars, galaxies and the solar system at-large; and Larry Cat in Space, which is a fun movie geared toward the younger children. There’s also a special treat we call the cosmic rollercoaster. There’s no explaining this – it has to be experienced.”

Programs can also be adjusted to meet badge requirements for scout troop members. Educators and Scout leaders may contact Dr. Weinkauf to schedule a field trip at 256-782-5743 or at

Plan to attend Space Safari – Love Stories in the Stars. Admittance is open to the public and the cost is $5 for adults and $2 for children. Groups are encouraged to pre-register by calling the JSU Field School at 256-782-8010. Just bring an appreciation for the night sky and a little imagination.

For more information, please contact Dr. Weinkauf at or 256-782-5743.
© 2013