Youngstown’s eye on the sky turns 50

The Ward Beecher Planetarium is celebrating its 50th anniversary

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) – Youngstown State University is celebrating a milestone this weekend — the 50th anniversary of the Ward Beecher Planetarium.

A lot has changed at the planetarium over the past five decades, especially in the world of astronomy. Starting with the space race in the 1960s to today’s latest discoveries.

The Ward Beecher Planetarium opened its doors in 1967. The facility has only served as a classroom for astronomy students but has welcomed thousands of children on field trips and hosted weekend shows for the public.

“I love being in astronomy. Not only is it the oldest science going back thousands of years, but it is the cutting edge, too,” said Planetarium Engineer Curt Spivey.

The dome at the planetarium is where it all happens and the star of the show is the Chronos, or star ball, a high-resolution digital projection system that recreates a realistic night sky.

“It allows an immersive and engaging way to learn about astronomy and science in general,” Spivey said.

Planetarium Director Patrick Durrell said technology has been the biggest change at the planetarium. It started with the original star ball to adding video projection across the dome.

“In the days when lots of planetariums were springing up, you had the beautiful star ball. People could go inside the dome and get a good, realistic view of what the night sky would look like,” Durrell said.

Because astronomy is constantly changing, the planetarium is too with new shows for the public and new programs for students.

“We are excited about astronomy and space and science, and we want everyone to have an appreciation of what the universe is all about,” Durrell said.

Future plans for the planetarium include a new, state of the art video system. The upgrade should be complete by this summer.

The 50th anniversary celebration for the Ward Beecher Planetarium begins Friday at 4 p.m. with the show “The Planetarium at 50: Then and Now.”

Prior reservations are required. A cocktail reception and dinner at the Sweet Exhibition Gallery in Maag Library will feature a presentation by Warren Young, faculty member emeritus in the Physics and Astronomy Department and retired director of the planetarium.

Public shows are scheduled for Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Complete scheduling information is available at wbplanetarium.org.