Over the last century, as cities have expanded, 80% of people on Earth have lost their access to truly dark night skies. During the same time, thousands of planetariums have sprung up across the globe, providing over 1 billion people a pristine, pitch-black window into the cosmos. As the marvelous planetarium projector turns 100 in 2023, the UWM Planetarium is launching the Year of Space to celebrate, with space-themed events happening across the UWM campus during the 2023-24 school year–including a visit from Mae Jemison, the first African American woman in space; two solar eclipses; a space-themed Union Art Gallery exhibit; and so much more.
Planetariums like ours have been projecting the stars and planets onto domes worldwide ever since the first planetarium projector was installed in the Deutsches Museum in Munich in 1923. Like time machines, these projectors can show the sky at different times and places. Since its premiere on the world stage, the planetarium projector has inspired audiences as they identify constellations, see patterns of celestial motions, and find answers to questions like what causes the phases of the Moon.
There are other reasons to celebrate space this year, whether it’s the new and exciting otherworldly images coming from the James Webb Space Telescope, the search for life on Mars and the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, or NASA’s Artemis program to land the first woman and the first person of color on the Moon. The 2023–24 school year also includes not one—but two!—partial solar eclipses. UWM is part of this timely focus on space: several Physics faculty, staff, and students play an essential role in the North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves (NANOGrav), which recently announced the detection of gravitational waves from supermassive black holes.
Outer space continues to fascinate the world, and the vital role played by planetariums will continue for the next hundred years. As urban populations grow, reconnecting to the cosmos and our place in it will be crucial. Regardless of where we live on Earth, we share one sky and one precious planet. This universal connection is undoubtedly a cause for celebration.
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