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Traveling planetarium a hit at Coventry middle school

March 20, 2014

Dr. Dennis Machnik spoke to a group of Feinstein Middle School eighth graders before they entered the planetarium Wednesday morning. Jessica Boisclair. Daily Times.

COVENTRY— More than 400 eighth graders at Alan Shawn Feinstein Middle School were given the opportunity to pack into a portable planetarium Wednesday and Thursday morning and learn about the various planets, stars and galaxies in our solar system.

Linda Grandchamp, eighth grade science teacher, invited Dr. Dennis Machnik, a professor from Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, to visit the students as a way to introduce them to astronomy.

Each spring, the new eighth graders are taught about astronomy in the classroom.

Dr. Machnik gave a presentation to six classes on Wednesday and another six classes on Thursday morning as a way to educate the students about the universe.

Approximately eight years ago, he said that Plymouth state provided him with the portable planetarium after they received a grant.

Once a week when he is not teaching classes, he travels throughout New England with the blow-up sphere to various schools.

The planetarium accommodates approximately 30 students; housing a standard LCD projector in the center.

Dr. Machnik said he uses a free program called stellarium, which students can download on their home computers.

This program allows him to view the sky as it is at the current time; with a remote he can fast forward to the nighttime hours.

Using the projector and the program, Dr. Machnik can also show constellations, planets, galaxies, star clusters and comets on the dome.

Approximately 30 students filled the blow-up planetarium every hour to learn about the weather, astrology and the various aspects of astronomy.

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