On Friday, Feb. 13, the WCU’s planetarium director put on a once-monthly show about the nighttime sky, constellations, and the expansion and acceleration of the universe in the planetarium located in the Schmucker Science Center.Dr. Karen Vanlandingham hosted “The Expanding, Accelerating Universe,” which started with a tour of the night sky for that day, gradually adding more stars and constellations as the night progressed until culminating in a brief look into physics and theory behind the actual growth of the universe.
While the event was billed as being about universal expansion, most of the hour was spent examining the different constellations, from the zodiac to other less known celestial bodies. More than just a game of connect the dots, Dr. Vanlandingham also explained the stories behind the creatures and characters that appear in the sky each night.
Dr. Vanlangingham, in light of the Valentine’s Day being the next day, also addressed the popular gift of purchasing and naming stars from websites for loved ones.
“All the stars in the sky have already been named,” she said. This applies even to the ones not visible to the naked eye, so any purchase is just a name on a piece of paper.
The constellations of the zodiac were of particular interest to people in the crowd, being one of the most familiar and popular fixtures in astronomy. From how the images were formed (for which there were also switches that would overlay an image over the stars project on the ceiling) to how the signs were actually assigned to the birth month, and how they aren’t in the same place in the sky now as they were when they got their names.
The other planets in our solar system were also topics of conversation, and how Mercury, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, and Saturn are the only planets visible with the naked eye, and are not even visible every evening.
When the light was turned out completely, the contrast between astrological entities and the night sky was fully visible. This included the sheer number of stars that could be visible without light pollution as well as the cloudy streak that is our galaxy the Milky Way. The Milky Way could only be more impressive if witnessed out in the middle of nowhere.
The name of the event revealed the main topic of the discussion, the way that our universe is still expanding. With the help of Edwin Hubble (who the telescope is named after), it was found out that the universe was much larger than originally thought (and that was only in 1924).
From this discovery and the measuring of the distance of planets, astronomers were able to figure out that they were actually getting farther away, not only from us, but from everything else in the universe. Everything was traveling outward, and the only question after that, was what would happen next?
Of all the theories that were thrown around, the newest one, which is ten years old, seems most favored. Originally, it was thought the universe would stop expanding, and like a bungee cord fed by gravity, everything would slingshot back together, or it would just go on expanding forever.
It seems that the second concept was right, though there was an unexpected factor: the universe is expanding at a rate faster than what was predicted.
There is a unknown substance, called dark energy, that is making the speed pick up, and makes everything traveling move even faster. So the universe will keep growing and keep doing it faster, infinitely. While this may make distant travel difficult, a new and fascinating road in the universe was uncovered, and not too long ago.
The planetarium puts on a show to the public once a month, with dates and times available on their website: http://www.wcupa.edu/_ACADEMICS/sch_cas.esc/planetariumshows.html, with reservations required.
Kory Dench is a fourth-year student majoring in English and minoring in Journalism. He can be reached at KD608724@wcupa.edu