Reaching for Stars

·2 min read

Jun. 27—Travel through space and time, exploring constellations and the outer limits of our Solar System, with Sam Houston State University's free planetarium shows all summer-long.

The SHSU planetarium and observatory is one of the university's best-kept secrets, and regularly schedules star shows that are free for the public to attend year-round. Physics department staff aid and amateur astronomer Mike Prokosch has organized and produced the star shows for the university since 2001, however, attendance has never peaked as high as it has this summer.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the planetarium and observatory, Prokosch had considered 20 visitors in his auditorium suited for 32, to be a full show for the night. When the planetarium reopened in March 2021, Prokosch wasn't certain of what to expect, and was disheartened to see low turnouts of just two or three regular visitors per show. Going into the summer season with the same expectations for his six scheduled showings, the amateur astronomer was shocked to see the large turnout for his first show of the summer season.

"I normally just do one show a week at 7 p.m., and when people call and ask I say, 'yeah, just show up,' I don't have to worry about filling the whole room. That first day, all of the seats were filled up and there were people out the door," Prokosch said, noting that he's added a second showing at 8 p.m. to meet the demand every week.

Prokosch's latest show on Thursday delved into the search for the elusive Planet 9, which is thought to exist on the outer regions of the Solar System, orbiting the Sun far beyond Neptune at 10-times the mass of Earth. The hypothetical planet would be the replacement for Pluto, which was recently identified to be a part of the Kuiper Belt.

"It's about the search for a planet beyond Neptune where they found thousands of Kuiper Belt Objects, Pluto being the largest of them," Prokosch said. "Because of the way that the Kuiper Belt Objects were orbiting, they've been able to figure out by their motion that there's a large thing out there that we haven't found yet that's causing them to move this way and that is the search for Planet Nine, which is the replacement for Pluto."

The next show on July 8, Exploding Universe, will depict how devastation in the universe leads to rebirth and renewal, while the remaining two shows in July are yet to be determined, depending on attendance.

Star shows are held Thursday nights at 7 and 8 p.m. on the first floor of the Farrington Building on SHSU campus in room 102. Due to the recent popularity of the star shows, Prokosch asks those interested in attending to RSVP via phone at (936)294-3664 or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/SHSUPlanetarium.

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