Man has traveling planetarium show |

Man has traveling planetarium show

It used to be a major production to get students to the planetarium – a long day involving permission slips, bus fumes and bag lunches.

But these days, the planetarium comes to you. Larry Harrison promises you the moon and the stars, and he delivers.

Harrison is founder and president of SCOPE – Science Can Open People’s Eyes. A self-taught astronomer, he travels California giving lectures to schoolchildren on the wonders of the heavens.

Harrison brought his traveling space show to Kirkwood Mountain Resort on Saturday, playing host to about 55 parents and children with his two-part program at the Children’s Center at Timber Creek Lodge, co-hosted by Sacramento Valley Astronomical Society vice president Walter Heiges.

“I’ve been in love with astronomy ever since I looked through my first telescope as a child,” said Harrison, who lives in Sacramento. “It’s something that gets into your blood. I love it, and I want to share that passion with as many people as possible.”

Harrison’s act involves plenty of props. The main one is Starlab, his portable planetarium. The contraption resembles a large, plastic igloo – actually a 16-foot, air-filled polyurethane bubble which can hold as many as 30 stargazers. A projector in the middle of the floor beams the stars and planets on the roof, and a recorded, 30-minute program ensues.

One might think that a group of young children confined in a small space for a half-hour would be a recipe for disaster. But during our visit, the kids were quietly enthralled.

“I didn’t want it to be over,” said Cory Wehan, 8, of Kirkwood.

“It was awesome,” said Marcus Rochelle, 9, of Pinegrove. “I want to go back in.”

When the planetarium show was over, the group moved out near one of the ski lifts, where Harrison had four telescopes set up. The big one was a 6-inch Astro-Physics Fx12 refractor, a state-of-the-art telescope equipped with a mounted computer to counteract the rotation of the earth.

“That system cost about $9,000,” said Harrison, who buys all his own equipment. “I pieced it together through the years, upgrading as I went along.

“But what people need to realize is that they don’t have to spend a lot of money to study the stars,” he said. “You can spend $400 and get an excellent telescope, and you will be able to see anything that’s out there. Galaxies, nebulas, star clusters, everything the heavens have to offer.”

But as one moves up in quality of equipment, details become sharper.

“With an 8-inch telescope, you can start to make out the planets more clearly. And as you get into the 20- to 30-inch telescopes, colors start to emerge. Saturn is clearly yellow, Jupiter is a faint brownish-orange.

“But the first telescope I ever had was a little 4-inch model, and it was enough to get me hooked.”

On Saturday, Harrison’s passion for the stars seemed to be reflected in the eyes of the children.

“I found Mars!” exclaimed Marcus, pointing to the western sky as a cloud moved by and uncovered a small, orangish dot. “Point that thing over here!”

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