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Van to teach astronomy at Suffolk schools

Suffolk’s Vanderbilt Museum will reopen its planetarium March

Suffolk’s Vanderbilt Museum will reopen its planetarium March 15. The planetarium will feature new shows produced by planetariums as far away as Great Britain and China, as well as high-definition video from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and other satellites. Credit: Handout

Studying celestial objects will be more of a hands-on activity for local students thanks to a traveling astronomy classroom.

“Discovering the Universe” is an educational exhibit housed in a 37-foot-long customized recreational vehicle. Through a program offered by the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, the exhibit will visit schools for astronomy education programs and provide students with observation principles for studying space.

The American Museum of Natural History donated the vehicle to the Vanderbilt Museum last fall after reorganizing some of its programs.

“ ‘Discovering the Universe’ is an intriguing, hands-on program inside a high-tech mobile classroom,” said Lance Reinheimer, interim executive director of the Vanderbilt. “We are very grateful to our friends and colleagues at the American Museum of Natural History for this gift, which will enable us to enhance the Vanderbilt’s longtime role as an adjunct to the science curriculum in local elementary and middle schools.”

The traveling classroom contains five stations — Light, Telescopes, Digital Imaging, 3-D Universe and Gravity. Students will be able to explore astronomy using computer technology and will learn about how scientists deal with studying objects that are billions of miles away. Educators from the Vanderbilt Planetarium and the museum’s education department will work with science teachers on the vehicle.

Reinheimer said it will cost about $30,000 to run the program, and the vehicle will begin visiting schools in the fall.

“This is not a revenue-generating program,” Reinheimer said. “This is to demonstrate our commitment to the community. As other museum programs across the area are being reduced, we are expanding and doing more outreach.”

Above: Suffolk County Vandervilt Museum

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