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Buehler Planetarium Renovations are out of this World

April 3, 2019 | News

After some 30 months of welcome interior renovations, Broward College’s most-noted astronomer thanked her lucky stars she could talk about space in a way she is most comfortable.

“We can finally use this room as our spaceship and time machine again,” said Susan Barnett, director of the Buehler Planetarium and Observatory. “But, first we had to upgrade the space inside the planetarium. Our physical plant needed some tender-loving care.”

Buehler PlanetariumNow that the looking after is in the past, the College’s window to the universe on the A. Hugh Adams Campus in Davie is up and running again. The planetarium, which has hosted more than two million visitors since opening in 1965, boasts a $1 million major facelift designed to meet the ongoing needs of students and the star-gazing community. Part of the modernization, made possible by a gift from the Emil Buehler Perpetual Trust included tripling the size of the lobby and overhauling much of the indoor space including refurbishing the restroom facilities, repairing the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system and installing new carpeting and chairs.

Barnett said the work was overdue. The last upgrades to the planetarium were back in 1998, ten years after she joined the Broward College staff. Since that point, Barnett has been the conductor of virtual tours that can take up to 100 visitors to the moon, through Saturn’s rings and into the center of the universe without them ever lifting a foot off the ground inside the planetarium’s theater.

“I do call it ‘playing’ in here,” said Barnett, pointing to her “toy,” a high-definition projection system she uses to paint breathtaking 3D representations of outer space on the planetarium’s dome-shaped ceiling. “We don’t always stop to think about what’s going on in the sky. There was a time when people had a very different picture of the world and its surroundings. They thought the earth was flat. This planetarium gets people to look up and see the wonderful things that are out there.”

Barnett said the experience she creates under the dome immerses visitors and transports them out of their realm in a way that a laptop or the night sky can’t. For many in the audience, the first experience inside a planetarium is a point of inspiration.

“People absolutely space out,” said Barnett, who hosts everyone from local grade-school students on field trips to retirees who have lost track of the science concepts they once held in awe. “I get the ‘wows and the gasps and the applause for reminding them of their connection to the sky and galaxy.”

As the only public planetarium in the county, the dome is also used by Broward College faculty to not only instruct classes in astronomy but mathematics, history, religion, and geology as well.

“It’s a wonderful asset and resource for the College,” said Barnett, who studied planetary geology at Yale University before coming to Broward College where she also teaches introductory astronomy. “Broward College has amazing faculty. That’s a given. But our students are not just sitting in a classroom. The planetarium is one of the many different environments where students can learn to think and interact with the world around them.”

And that experience is also a gateway visiting elementary school students, many of whom are stepping foot on a college campus for the first time, never lose sight of as they explore the outer reaches of the universe.

“I had a fourth-grader come up to me after a show and say, ‘I’m coming to this College,’” said Barnett. “But, I’ve had reactions from all ages. I’ve had parents say, ‘my teenager never paid attention to anything before until now,” or ‘my daughter needed to see something like this.’  It shows we’ve lost track of the wonder of the sky. But, the point is, we can find it again together, right here.”

Buehler Planetarium shows are offered, 7-8 p.m., the second Wednesday of every month. Teachers are encouraged to book trips in advance. Following each presentation and on every Wednesday just outside on planetarium patio, the public is invited to visit the Broward College Observatory, where visitors can take advantage of powerful telescopes to view planets, nebula and the moon in unmatched detail.   Check it out here.

You can explore courses offered in Astronomy and related fields through the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Pathway.

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