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Planetarium ready to welcome back school groups and general public

The Sacramento State Planetarium, shut down since March 2020, is poised to welcome back visitors. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)

Sacramento State’s popular Planetarium, shuttered for more than a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, will soon reopen to schoolchildren and the general public.

“I can’t wait to get back under that dome with an audience in front of me and the stars above me,” said Planetarium Director Kyle Watters, a Sac State Physics lecturer.

Entrance for school groups will remain free and general admission tickets will be $5 at least through the fall, Watters said. To reserve a spot, go to csus.edu/planetarium.

Physics Lecturer Kyle Watters, director of the Sacramento State Planetarium, said seating capacity initially will be limited to 60 people. "We're going to play it on the safe side," he said. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)

Health and safety protocols will require that all visitors wear face coverings, regardless of vaccination status. Seating capacity will be limited to 60 people per show for at least the first month to promote social distancing.

“We’re going to play it on the safe side,” Watters said.

The facility has previously served as a lecture hall for Sac State Astronomy students, but no large lecture courses will be held in the building until spring, said Watters.

The Planetarium, which sold out all of its shows and hosted thousands of children on field trips between its opening in September 2019 and shutdown in March 2020, is part of the Ernest E. Tschannen Science Complex. It offers ultra-high-definition, 360-degree tours of the universe that feel so real that they can spur motion sickness.

Public shows will be offered on three days in September, with two or three shows per day, Watters said. The schedule may be expanded in future months.

Among the first shows will be The Dark Matter Mystery, which focuses on “the mysterious stuff called dark matter that makes up the majority of the mass in our galaxy,” said Watters.

“I’m excited for this one,” he said. “It’s one of my favorite topics each year when I teach  . There is still so much in our galaxy that we know very little about.”

The Planetarium likely will bring back Secrets of the Sun, an intimate look at the role the Sun plays in the life of the solar system, and Mystery of the Christmas Star,” which examines possible scientific explanations for the star that the Biblical wise men followed to find the baby Jesus.

But Watters most looks forward to showing off the Planetarium to teachers and young scholars.

“I love watching the teachers’ faces, how excited they are to see the kids’ reactions to being under the dome,” he said. “It’s just really cool.”

Jennifer Navarro, director of development for the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, said the University is still looking for donors to make $1,000 gifts in exchange for having their names permanently affixed to the back of Planetarium seats. The “Seat Under the Stars” effort already has raised more than $100,000, Navarro said.

“We continue to raise funds to support the Planetarium and help us to keep ticket prices low so that it is accessible to all,” she said.

Anyone interested in learning more about sponsorship and naming opportunities, the Seat Under the Stars campaign, or other ways to contribute can contact Navarro directly at jennifer.navarro@csus.edu.

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About Cynthia Hubert

Cynthia Hubert came to Sacramento State in November 2018 after an award-winning career writing for the Sacramento Bee. Cynthia believes everyone has a good story. She lives in East Sacramento with her two cats, who enjoy bird-watching from their perch next to the living-room window.

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