I just got the go-ahead to share a secret I’ve been dying to
tell for quite a while: Morehead Planetarium and Science Center has just started production of a fulldome planetarium show based on the popular
children’s book “Grossology and You!”

Many children and teachers are already familiar with the
“Grossology” book series
–- I know I used these books in my classroom. The concept is brilliant. The books’ author, Sylvia Branzei-Velasquez, a teacher
herself, takes all the gross stuff that kids just love — snot, blood, poop and
more –- and turns them into teachable moments. For example, scrapes and scabs become an opportunity to teach about how the body fights infection. Snot becomes an opportunity to introduce the vital role of mucus in our lungs and throughout our bodies. Jack Keely’s fun illustrations keep it all from getting too gross for anyone.

We’ve been wanting to do a human body and health planetarium show for
quite a while, and this project just seemed like the right opportunity at the
right time. With the change in our planetarium technology to fulldome digital,
the opportunity to branch out beyond astronomy and space science is now
possible. In fact, with fulldome technology we can use the dome to immerse
people in any environment that has some space to it.

Expect that the new show will involve some travel inside human body organs. This gives new meaning to “learning from the inside out!”

This project is made possible through generous support from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) SEPA (Science Education
Partnership Award) program
. NIH has long been a supporter of innovative science education programs.

We will be working with Sylvia, Jack and several others to produce this show. UNC researchers Dr. Rich Superfine, Dr. Kay Lund, Dr. Alisa Wolberg, Dr. Ric Boucher and Dr. Sam Lai will provide scientific oversight. Educators from North Carolina and beyond will help ensure that the show and curriculum
materials we develop will really appeal to students and align to national
curriculum standards. And, of course, our award-winning production department
will bring it all together to create a one-of-a-kind educational experience!

Several of the other educational shows we’ve produced,
including Earth, Moon and Sun, Magic Tree House Space Mission and Solar System
Odyssey
, have been leased by planetariums throughout the US and around the
world. Grossology and You is sure to be another favorite. We look forward to
sharing it with you in early 2014.

Denise Young is Morehead’s director of education and planning.

06 Feb 2013
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Composite image of Mercury taken by the MESSENGER mission (Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington)

Want to catch a glimpse of a planet few people have knowingly seen? For viewers at mid-northern latitudes, next week offers 2013’s best evening apparition of Mercury. About 45 minutes after sunset, try looking for Mercury as a pinpoint of light low in the west, above the spot where the Sun set.

It will be easier to see Mercury starting around Feb. 9, 2013, but if skies are clear where you live it’s definitely worth trying Feb. 7 and 8, when Mercury meets up with Mars in evening twilight. Look low in the west about a half hour after sunset, and use binoculars to help you spot dimmer Mars. Both those evenings the two planets are well within one degree of each other—less than the width of your pinky finger when held at arm’s length.

Why is Mercury usually a difficult planet to observe? As the innermost planet to the Sun, Mercury never appears to stray far from the Sun in our sky. So it can become visible only low in the west just after sunset, or low in the east just before sunrise.

To join the club of people who have knowingly seen Mercury, please join Morehead for a skywatching session the evening of Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013. Weather permitting, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. we’ll be at Jordan Lake, at Ebenezer Church Recreation Area. This site provides an excellent view of the western horizon over the lake. To see Mercury before it sets, arrive near the beginning of the session.

If you miss Mercury in the evening sky this month, try again in late May through mid-June.


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