Planetarium Programming Reaches Out to Hispanics

OGDEN, Utah – As visitors to the Ott Planetarium settle into their seats, the lights dim and a voice from the speaker system fills the auditorium and says, “Damas y caballeros, bienvenidos a nuestro planetario.  Para él que visita por primera vez, éste puede ser un lugar extraño...”

It's all part of a new outreach effort to attract more interest in science among Utah’s growing Spanish-speaking population.

The planetarium, located inside Lind Lecture Hall on Weber State University’s Ogden campus, has been presenting star shows in Spanish since November.

WSU assistant physics professor Stacy Palen, who serves as director of the Ott Planetarium, said she has received a lot of interest from the community, particularly from grade-school teachers in Ogden’s inner-city schools and from the multicultural student society on campus.

Based on this early success, Palen and her staff of undergraduate students are already busy translating another show into Spanish. Even before it’s produced, Palen has received requests for the new show from planetariums as far away as Texas and New Jersey. According to Palen, there are no Spanish language shows available in the American market.

“We teamed up with Clark Planetarium to translate their most popular show, ‘The Secret of the Cardboard Rocket,’” Palen said. The initial translation was done by a bilingual student at WSU and reviewed by a native Spanish-speaking astronomer who works for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Three generations of a local family recorded the voices for the actual program, which is now in post-production.

Palen said the Spanish programs currently available are only 20 minutes in length, but she hopes to have a longer show in place by the end of spring semester 2006.

Congress recently approved a $1 million appropriation for the planetarium to upgrade its facility and expand educational opportunities for students at the elementary school, secondary school and college level. Translating star shows into Spanish is just one way the federal funding will assist Ott Planetarium in its efforts to support NASA’s mission of developing and recruiting the next generation of astronomers and other scientists.

The facility will use the federal money to purchase equipment that will significantly reduce the time it takes to produce new shows. Currently, it takes the computer used by Palen’s students more than an hour to create one minute of a finished show.

Ott Planetarium’s primary mission is education, and Palen believes providing shows to audiences from all backgrounds, classes and regions is in science’s best interest. The facility offers a waiver program for groups such as Head Start, which serve predominantly underprivileged populations.

“People often say ‘You can't solve a problem by throwing money at it,’” Palen said.  “That's probably true, but it’s also true that you can’t solve a problem without throwing minds at it. In our country, here in Ogden, and even on our campus, we are missing a whole lot of minds that could be helping us solve our problems. We need to reach out to more people.”

The Ott Planetarium is available for school presentations for students of all ages throughout the school year. Star shows are open to the public on Wednesday evenings during the academic semester. Spanish language shows are presented at 5:30 p.m. Wednesdays. Visit weber.edu/planetarium for a complete listing of shows and more information about the facility.

Visit weber.edu/wsutoday for more news about Weber State University.
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Contact:

Stacy Palen, assistant physics professor

(801) 626-7030 · spalen@weber.edu

Author:
John Kowalewski, director of Media Relations
(801) 626-7212 • jkowalewski@weber.edu