By Jacqueline Grima
Visitors to the Manchester Children’s Book Festival had a chance to learn about the planets and stars yesterday when the Starlab Planetarium popped in to say hello.
The planetarium, a huge, silver, inflatable dome, gave students the chance to imagine what it might be like to see the sky without the distractions of the light pollution that can be found in most towns and cities.
Students from all across the UK came to visit the event, including Plymouth Grove Primary School from Manchester and Feversham College from Bradford.
To enter the dome, students had the unique experience of crawling through a narrow inflatable tunnel and, once inside, were invited to feast their eyes on a host of planets and constellations.
Anthony Tibbits from Starlab told the visitors about the many planets, such as Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, that can be seen in the night sky, with Mars being particularly visible at this time of year. He also talked about the phases of the moon, which in the UK is currently at just over 85%.
Anthony spoke to the students about the many complicated constellations that are formed in the sky by groups of stars. For example, Orion’s Belt, also known as the Three Kings or Three Sisters, is a constellation made up of three stars, Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka. This constellation is particularly visible during winter, especially January and is called Orion’s Belt due to the straight line it forms.
Students also had the opportunity to learn about the Greek mythological stories behind the constellation names. For example, Orion was supposedly a giant huntsman who the sky and thunder god Zeus placed amongst the stars. They were also interested to learn that constellations have different names in other parts of the world. For instance, what we call the Great Bear is known as the Seven Stars of the North in South Korea!
MCBF volunteer, Hannah Bickerton, thoroughly enjoyed her time in the planetarium. She said, “It was really relaxing and so interesting to find out about all the different constellations.”
Teachers Lisa Altobelli and Dianne Excell from Feversham College also thought a visit to the dome was a fantastic opportunity for students. Lisa said, “The experience inside the planetarium was so stimulating and awe-inspiring. It really seemed to bring home to the students how big the universe is and how small they are. They absolutely loved it!”
Dianne added, “I think it will definitely inspire some writing among the students.”
After their visit to the dome, students had the chance to take part in a poetry workshop with poet and Manchester Metropolitan University Senior Lecturer in Science Communication Sam Illingworth. Sam told us, “I’ve always been interested in the relationship between science and poetry. Students often get pigeon-holed early on their education and don’t get the chance to explore both. It shouldn’t have to be one or the other.”
Sam asked students to think of five words that summed up their experience of their time in the dome. Words the students came up with included ‘beautiful’, ‘calming’ and ‘breath-taking’. Then students were asked to think of five words associated with stars, suggestions including ‘gas’, ‘heat’, ‘bright’, ‘rebirth’ and ‘life’.