With a line that backed up to the NS Building, the box office for Palomar’s new planetarium opened to the public for the first of many Fridays at 6:30 p.m. on April 20.
The $8.5 million planetarium, funded by Proposition M, officially opened to the public with two separate presentations, “The Sky Tonight” and “Violent Universe.” Typically, there are telescopes available to view the sky, but due to inclement skies, the telescopes were unavailable on opening night.
“What would have made a perfect night is if we did have the ability to pull out telescopes,” said Mark Lane, Palomar associate professor and planetarium director.
Before the show, Lane told guests that the telescopes are a major part of the presentation. Even though they were not used for the opening night, the telescopes will be available every Friday night and are free to use.
Before the first presentation, Lane told the crowd, “You guys are our inaugural crowd.”
That crowd consisted of 200 at both shows. There were 99 tickets sold to the first show and 91 sold for the second show. Some attendees stayed for both showings and some only saw one.
The first presentation, “The Sky Tonight,” is designed to take guests through the current night’s sky. Lane showed the crowd the constellations and planets which could be seen in the sky that night had there not been clouds.
The second presentation, “Violent Universe,” was 27 minutes long and described the perils that face Earth from space. It was narrated by Patrick Stewart, who played Captain Jean-Luc Picard in the Star Trek series. The 10-year license of the program was purchased by the school with the Prop M grant for $13,000.
“Essentially once a year we can drag it out, and show it, and start to make money,” Lane said.
He said that he thinks the program will run for about a month before he changes to another program, which he said has already been purchased. He acknowledged that they were not cheap, but Lane also told the crowd that the department has the technology to eventually create full-dome presentations like “Violent Universe.”
Palomar President Robert Deegan, Governing Board President Darrell McMullen, Vice President of Student Services Mark Vernoy, former Vice President of Finance Bonnie Dowd and Daniel Sourbeer, head of the Life Sciences Department, all came to the opening for the first night.
“It was a wonderful experience,” Deegan said after the show. “A great opening of our planetarium; we’re also very, very proud. And so happy to share not only with students, but with the community as well.”
At the end of the final presentation, the crowd clapped as the lights slowly came on. Even without the use of the telescopes, Lane was pleased that the night went as smoothly as it did.
“I think it went really well. Any time you have a first night you’re going to have a few hiccups,” Lane said. “But the hiccups we had were really small. Everybody seemed really happy.”
Part-time Palomar English Professor Diane Martin and her friend Mary Harrington decided that they wanted to come to the opening after they read about it in the North County Times. Martin said she didn’t come because she teaches at the school, but as a member of the community.
“I think it is a great gift to the community,” Martin said. “It is a wonderful opportunity to become educated.”