Planetarium Visit – Constellations

Role Dialog
 Narrator  Betty has invited Jerry to visit a planetarium show at a local college.  They have just arrived at the entrance to the planetarium. A class of high school students are also attending as part of a school field trip.
 Jerry  So tell me again what a planetarium is?
 Betty It’s a special kind of theater with a dome-shaped ceiling, kind of like an upside-down bowl. It’s kept dark inside because the ceiling is actually a 360-degree projector screen that can simulate the night sky in all directions as viewed from anywhere on the Earth at any time of the year. The shows are educational and are intended to teach us about the awe-inspiring mysteries of the universe.
Jerry Can it only show stars in the night sky?
Betty No, it can also show movies about astronomy topics. It can project all kinds of celestial objects on the screen, such as planets, moons, suns, nebulae, black holes, and entire galaxies.
Jerry Sounds really neat! What’s the show about that were going to see?
Betty Tonight’s show is about common constellations that we can see in the northern hemisphere.
Jerry The northern hemisphere? I don’t know much about astronomy. What’s that?
Betty Think of the Earth as a ball. The upper half is called the northern hemisphere, and the lower half is called the southern hemisphere. In the northern hemisphere, we are looking up so we see different stars than the people living in the southern hemisphere because they are looking down.
Jerry Oh, I never thought about it that way.
Betty Okay, let’s go find some good seats.
Jerry After you.
Narrator They go into the planetarium and find some seats. Other people are doing the same. After everyone is seated, the doors are closed, the room goes dark, and the night sky appears on the ceiling. It is so realistic-looking that you could swear you were standing outside looking up at the real sky.
Guide Welcome to our planetarium show, folks. Tonight we’re going to teach you about some of the most common constellations in the night sky as seen from the northern hemisphere.
Student What’s a constellation, sir?
Guide That’s a good question for those who are unfamiliar with astronomyFor convenience of reference, the night sky is divided into 88 sections called constellations. Each constellation is basically a grouping of stars that astronomers have given names to. Tonight well learn about some of the more well-known and easily recognizable constellations.
Student What is the value of knowing constellations?
Guide Well, for one thing, they can help you navigate at night time. This is especially useful if you are out on the ocean at night and the stars are all you can see to guide you.
Student Wow! I never thought about that. Is that how the ancient sailors knew how to sail at night?
Guide That’s correct. Okay, let’s take a look at our first constellation.
It’s called the Big Bear or Ursa Major.
    
Guide You’ll see on the screen that the ancient sailors imagined that these stars looked like a giant bear in the sky. Ursa Major is Latin for Big Bear. If you look at the bear’s tail and the four stars attached to the tail, his butt if you will, you can see that these seven stars form a ladle, which we call The Big Dipper. The screen is now highlighting The Big Dipper so you can see it more clearly. Who knows what is particularly useful about the Big Dipper?
Betty If you extend the last two stars in the bowl of the dipper upward about five times the distance between them, you can find the North Star, which is also called Polaris. That star is directly over the Earth’s north pole, so if you face that star, then you are facing north. This helps you know which way to travel at night time.
Guide Excellent answer! The screen is now showing what this lady is talking about.  So once you find the North Star, you know exactly which direction north is.
Jerry Wow, pretty good. You sure know your stuff, Betty!
Betty Well, I know the basics at least. (Betty blushes invisibly in the dark.)
Guide Next, let’s look at Orion the Hunter, one of the most well-known and easily recognized constellations in the northern sky. Orion shows up in the summer sky. What makes this constellation very distinctive are the three stars in a straight line that form his belt.

Guide In the winter sky, the most easily recognizable constellation is called Scorpius or Scorpio, the Scorpion.
     
Guide There is a mythology legend about Orion and the scorpion.
Orion bragged that he was the greatest hunter in the world and that there was no animal that he couldn’t hunt down and kill. Hearing this, the scorpion sneaked up on Orion one night and bit and killed him. When the gods honored Orion by placing him among the stars, they made sure that the scorpion was on the other side of the world so Orion would be forever safe from another attack.  Thus, Orion is seen in the summer and Scorpius is seen in the winter.
Jerry What a fascinating legend! I thought scorpion bites weren’t normally fatal though.
Betty Well, it is a mythology story, Jerry. Everything has to come down to life and death. Perhaps they exaggerated a bit to make it more dramatic.
Jerry (to Guide) Are there any other constellations that are based on ancient mythology stories?
Guide Oh, Heavens, yes. There are many more! Cassiopeia, for example, had a beautiful daughter named Andromeda. Well, Cassiopeia bragged that Andromeda was more beautiful that Hera herself, the Queen of the Gods. Hera heard this and was not pleased, so to punish Cassiopeia for her impudence, she commanded that her daughter Andromeda be sacrificed and fed to a sea monster.
Betty I know the end to that story. A handsome hero named Perseus rode in on a winged horse named Pegasus and saved the beautiful Andromeda!
Guide And so he did. Perseus, Cassiopeia, Andromeda, and Pegasus were all commemorated by being placed among the stars as constellations. Cassiopeia and Pegasus are particularly easy to recognize. Does anyone know why?
Student Oh, I know that Cassiopeia looks like a lazy W or an M depending on when you are looking at it.
Guide Exactly. Let’s call it a lazy W, as you put it. When it’s upside down, an M that is, we say that Hera is torturing Cassiopeia by hanging her by her feet.
Betty And I know that Pegasus contains four stars that are called the Great Square.  The Andromeda constellation hangs below the Great Square almost as if the Great Square were a kite and Andromeda were its double tails.
Guide That’s an astute analogy, young lady.
Guide While were talking about Andromeda, there is another little interesting tidbit about her. She was so beautiful that she received a double honor — they also named a galaxy after her! Certainly with binoculars, and possibly with the naked eye, this galaxy can be seen as a faint blurry object between Cassiopeia and Andromeda, but much closer to Andromeda as you might expect.
Jerry Whoa, what a happy ending!
Betty Okay, Jerry, show’s over. Come down out of the stars and let’s return to our mundane homes.

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