The Planetarium and the Observatory at Texas A&M University-Commerce offer an astronomical amount of knowledge to students and the community.
Located on the first floor of the McFarland Science Building, the Planetarium features a Digistar 5 all-digital projection system and 87 reclined seats within a 40-foot dome, surrounding viewers in a space environment filled with astonishing, stellar sights and sounds sure to amaze audiences of all ages.
As the only planetarium within 60 miles, the facility receives over 10,000 visitors annually. Although some A&M-Commerce classes and labs are held at the Planetarium, the facility’s major function is to support outreach efforts focused on instilling a love of astronomy and physics in the minds of young people.
Planetarium shows are specifically designed to meet critical learning criteria for school groups, and feature presentations target grade-level content that is appropriate for all ages. Teachers can select presentations from titles such as A Starry Night, Earth, Moon & Sun, Asteroid Mission Extreme, Astronaut, and Kaluoka’hina: The Enchanted Reef. They can also get recommendations from staff.
Approximately 75% of guests are children visiting with public and private school groups, as well as homeschool groups. “It is amazing to see the excitement for astronomy increase and grow through the eyes of our young visitors,” stated Dr. Cheri Davis, Planetarium director.
The Planetarium is open to the public on Friday nights for shows at 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. The shows last approximately 50 minutes, beginning with a live, interactive presentation featuring constellations, stars and planets in the current night sky. Mid-week matinees are offered through June and July.
Additionally, the first Wednesday of each month is reserved for homeschool groups. The box office opens at 11 a.m. and the show begins at 11:30 a.m.
For more information about the A&M-Commerce Planetarium, visit tamuc.edu/planetarium.
Five miles south of campus, the A&M-Commerce Observatory houses the university’s observing and research-grade telescopes, including a Planewave CDK 700 27-inch telescope and a Meade 16-inch LX200 Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope.
“The 27-inch telescope is the largest in Northeast Texas, giving our students access to a research-grade facility every clear night,” said Dr. Matt Wood, professor of physics and astronomy.
“Our students and faculty use the facility to obtain data for honors and master’s theses in collaboration with astronomers from around the globe,” Wood continued.
Students majoring in physics work closely with a faculty mentor on research projects as they search for exoplanets, track asteroid light curves and rotation periods, and investigate white dwarf stars.
The university’s membership in the Southeastern Association for Research in Astronomy (SARA) also provides students with remote access to three 1-m-class telescopes housed at premier astronomical observatories in Arizona, Chile and the island of La Palma in the Canary Islands.
In addition to research-grade telescopes, the facility features multiple smaller telescopes and binoculars for public viewing. The observatory is ideally positioned on open acreage, thus avoiding light pollution from the city. Red indoor lighting also helps to protect viewers’ night vision.
The observatory is open to the public during seasonally scheduled open house events and occasional astronomical events, such as lunar eclipses. Public viewing events can be found on the observatory’s webpage.