By Sarah Tewksbury, Free Press staff
Having been called the “hidden gem” of USM by former Free Press reporter Raquel Miller, the Southworth Planetarium provides a safe learning environment for people of all ages. Located on the ground floor of the Science Building on the Portland campus, the Southworth Planetarium hosts events which are free to all students with a valid ID card.
The planetarium supports itself through ticket sales. Depending on the time of year, Southworth Planetarium can see anywhere from three to ten school groups per week.
Student participation in activities at the planetarium are limited. Only one astronomy laboratory course currently meets in the Southworth Planetarium. Though students do not always take advantage of the resources available at the planetarium, Edward Gleason, the manager of the planetarium, believes that USM is doing all that it can to promote the planetarium. Despite USM’s promotion of the planetarium, Gleason doesn’t see much hope for growth in the community of astronomers at USM.
“It seems the University of Maine System is trying to funnel science based students towards UMO,” Gleason said. “[It’s] almost like they’re trying to create a one campus system, with UMO as the science center campus. Like how they’ve made the Farmington campus the education center.”
Though this may be the case, staff are hopeful and excited about current and upcoming shows, including Season of Light, Southworth Planetarium holiday special, which is a must see. Running from Nov. 26 to Jan. 6, the show examines the history of astrological phenomena that have inspired holiday traditions. The show is narrated by NPR’s Noah Adams.
Beginning with educational trivia questions and some holiday music, Season of Light is captivating from the moment it begins. The hour-long show refers to history, astronomy, music and art and reveals a common theme: light.
Bringing multiple religions and cultures into the discussion, Adams calmly discusses the use of holiday symbols that are tied to light, such as Roman candles, the Yule log, Christmas trees, Menorahs, the Star of Bethlehem and many more. Offering a scientific explanation to viewers provided context to numerous festive customs that continue today.
The serene and welcoming atmosphere of the planetarium is enough to provide a safe learning environment for students of all ages. Those who have had the opportunity to experience all it has to offer love Southworth Planetarium and its shows—including Season of Light.
For more information about Southworth Planetarium, visit the website at www.usm.maine.edu/planet or stop by for free information.