Slowly but surely, the clouds are clearing over Bellingham to reveal a beautiful blue-skied spring. But blue sky and sunshine isn’t the only perk to the improving weather—the night sky is also opening, which means lots of star-gazing opportunities!
For years, I have been hearing about a planetarium on Western’s campus, mostly from disgruntled, lost Astronomy 101 students. Having side-stepped the class in favor of geology, I never had to figure out where this mysterious planetarium is located. But now, as my time at Western draws to a close, I wax philosophically that I still haven’t used this university to its full potential, and I’m trying to cram Western experiences in like I used to cram rock names the night before my geology exams.
The only thing that stands between me and a collegiate understanding of the cosmos is the fact that I have no idea where the planetarium is. So, I hit the bricks to ask real live Western students how to find it.
I started my voyage in the Viking Union, just as I did last time when I was searching for the Student Technology Center. I figure that the kids who hang out on the fifth floor of the VU probably know the campus better than most; after all, they found the fifth floor, didn’t they?
Popping my head into the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Alliance, one of the offices in the Associated Students Resource and Outreach Programs, I found three knowledgeable-looking people hanging out, so I asked them how to find the planetarium. The first response I got was from a young man who said, “I think it’s in Old Main maybe…? I know there’s a place there with something to do with planets, but I think it’s something else…” Ok, I know he was trying to be helpful, but I don’t think he could be more vague if he tried. Another student chimed in with “I think it’s over by Arntzen Hall,” and the third looked blankly at me. I decided that Arntzen was my best lead, so off I went, along with AS Review photographer and utility man Matt.
Once we were in front of Arntzen, I spotted two students hanging a poster about ending war and decided to ask them for some more specific directions. One replied to me that she was sure it was in Miller Hall, and that I would see posters for it around. We headed back to the north end of campus, fueled by the student’s confidence.
Matt and I arrived in Miller Hall, but saw no planetarium, and not even any posters about it! I found the Miller Hall directory, so decided to check there. I scanned all the listed locations, but to no avail. Matt, excited to be put out of the misery of following me around campus in a directionless search for a place no one seemed to know about, pointed to a promising red radial symbol on the map of Miller. His eyes sparkled as he said, “This could be it!” But then he realized that it was only the “You Are Here” symbol, and he crestfallenly dropped his head, resigned to continue the search.
We then wandered the halls of Miller, asking several people we passed where the planetarium could be found. One guy we asked didn’t even pause as he strode hurriedly by us, responding with a “No clue,” as he went. Another passerby said that one floor below us had an information desk and could tell us where to go. We hit the stairs, heading for the computer labs.
I pity anyone who goes down to the Miller Hall computer labs. The place looks and feels like one of Dante’s circles of hell: unbearably hot, low-ceilinged, grey, and confusingly constructed. Matt and I wandered through the labyrinth of buzzing grey computers as they spat out enough heat to pull a small village through the winter, but we didn’t find any information desk, and we definitely didn’t find any planetariums. This was a dead end, and we both needed to go up for air, so we climbed the stairs back to the real world, and stumbled into Miller Market.
In the Market, I asked a young lady behind the coffee counter where to find the planetarium. Her nametag told me that she was Megan, her smile told me that she was very nice, and the way she ducked behind the counter when she saw Matt wielding his camera told me she didn’t want to be photographed. But she did give us a helpful hint as to the whereabouts of the planetarium—she pointed assertively to the other side of Red Square, so Matt and I were off again.
As we passed the fountain, I saw a group of very punked-out kids chit-chatting nonchalantly. These folks must know where the planetarium is, I thought. They clearly knew where to get all manner of piercings, a rainbow of hair dye colors, and lots of combat boots and studs. “There’s a planetarium on campus?” a young man with an eight-inch mohawk said. “I don’t even know what a planetarium is.” One of his friends filled him in: “It’s like a laser light show or something,” she said. I assured the group that if and when I found the planetarium, I would be sure to come back and let them know.
Then Matt and I spotted the man I am now deeply grateful for. He didn’t even look like a student, but when I asked him where to find the planetarium, he pointed right at a door on the exterior of the front of Haggard Hall. My eyes followed his pointing arm, and there it was, a metal door with the words “Stairwell to planetarium” printed on it.
We rushed to the door, but it was locked! We didn’t get to actually go into the planetarium, but at least we found out how to get there. Plus, I learned all about the cool things that go on at the planetarium.
First, they offer monthly shows that are open to the public. The next two presentations will be taking place on Friday, May 26 at 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Presentations include info on the stars you can see in springtime, aurora borealis, the legends associated with different constellations, and a various assortment of planets and moons.
Presentations can also be arranged for groups like dorms, schools, classes, or clubs. Tickets cost $3 for students (of any school) and $5 for non-students.
The coolest part, though, is that the planetarium has put out a call for Western students to get involved with designing planetarium programming, giving presentations, and using the facility for students’ own unique ideas. They are looking for “writers, musicians, graphic artists, videographers, actors, audiophiles, and of course, astronomers,” according to their Web site, www.wwu.edu/depts/skywise/index.html.
For more information on the planetarium or how to get involved, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll see you at the next show!