Planetarium's visit to Sunnyside out of this world

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A dark blue dome nearly filled the width of the gymnasium at Sunnyside School, while filling students with awe of the night sky.

James Durbano, an astronomer and educator, set up his AstroDome Planetarium for the first time in the Lethbridge area Wednesday. On the ceiling of what looks like a floor-less bouncy castle, Durbano projected real-time images of the sky at daylight, before fast forwarding to the night sky full of planets and constellations traipsing across the heavens.

Not only were students at Sunnyside given a tour of the night sky over southern Alberta, but they were “transported through space and time” to the Southern Hemisphere for a view of constellations not visible from Canada.

The visit to Sunnyside fit with teacher Jill McIntyre’s Grade 1 studies of weather and changes of season as they relate to Earth’s orbit. The presentation to Jodie Legault’s  Grade 5/6 class supplemented their study of the solar system and constellations.

Before entering the portable planetarium, students had a chance to hold a chunk of meteorite, to feel for themselves the densely heavy rock.

Durbano says his presentations are also well suited to the Grade 9 curriculum on space exploration.

His career as a stargazer began in high school as an amateur astronomer. He studied astronomy in university and became a teacher before leaving the classroom to provide educational programs in museums and science centres. He hit the road last year with his portable planetarium, making about 30 stops at schools. With word of mouth, he’s on track for 50 shows this year.

In addition to the visit to Sunnyside Wednesday, he was scheduled to visit R.I. Baker Middle School Thursday.

“I discovered the love of the night sky at a young age,” he said between presentations. “I love showing it to other kids. I hear a lot of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs,’ and I never get tired of listening to that.”