• Planetarium 01 The Charles W. Brown Planetarium hosted more than 20,000 people in the year since it opened November 2014.
  • Planetarium 10 The planetarium's director says is he still unlocking the facility's possibilities, and more features and programming could come.
  • Planetarium 02 The 152 seats and 52-foot-diameter dome make the planetarium the largest in Indiana.
  • Planetarium 03 Visitors can get a close look at 10 million stars, compared to only 1,400 at the planetarium's predecessor.
  • Planetarium 04 The planetarium added shows to its schedule, hosting public programs almost every week.
  • Planetarium 05 Staff and volunteers have also begun producing their own programs. Two have debuted so far—one about Saturn and the other on Pluto.
  • Planetarium 06 Before visitors head into the planetarium, they can learn more about the shows' topics by using interactive exhibits in the lobby.
  • Planetarium 07 Schools around the state have already grown fond of the facility. Nearly 3,600 people visited with a school group last academic year.
  • Planetarium 08 In addition to running pre-produced shows, planetarium staff can show visitors the stars on their own. They like to highlight well-known celestial bodies, such as constellations.
  • Planetarium 09 The planetarium has become a source of inspiration for many students and faculty. Art students, for instance, frequent shows because they find it sparks creativity.
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Constellations, Pluto, the North Star—it's hard to pinpoint what visitors like most at the Charles W. Brown Planetarium. Almost all the shows have been full in its first year of operation.

"Everything seems to do well," said Ronald Kaitchuck, the planetarium's director. "Years ago, it was too geeky to go to a planetarium. Now it's kind of a cool thing. It's changed a lot."

Ronald Kaitchuck, director of the Charles W. Brown Planetarium, discusses how the staff serve as role models for children and how the planetarium is a source of inspiration for students.

The planetarium, which opened to the public in November 2014, had 20,105 visitors in its first year. That's more than double the 9,400 people who visited the old planetarium during its last full year. In addition, the new facility has provided entrepreneurial learning opportunities for students and expanded how visitors learn about outer space.

The facility, the largest in Indiana, seats 152 in its 52-foot-diameter dome. At the center, a projector creates a night sky of 10 million stars and allows the audience to "travel" through the galaxy. Previously, viewers could see only 1,400 stars and only from Earth.

"It's amazing to have that technology," said Brittany Short, a graduate student who works at the planetarium. "It's one of the reasons I decided to stay at Ball State. I wouldn't have had that experience anywhere else."

Planetarium staff and students craft original shows

With shows offered almost every weekend, the planetarium has increased the number of programs. Soon after the Brown Planetarium opening, staff and students began using the old facility to produce their own shows, rather than buying all of them. Two Ball State productions have debuted so far—one about Saturn and the other on Pluto.

"It's amazing to have that technology. It's one of the reasons I decided to stay at Ball State. I wouldn't have had that experience anywhere else."

Brittany Short,
graduate student and planetarium employee

"Before we started construction, I said, 'Maybe after two or three years, we'd be to the point where we started creating our own shows,'" Kaitchuck said. "Well, we were doing that within six months."

Staff and volunteers also made exhibits to introduce guests, in a hands-on way, to subjects the shows cover.

Among the exhibits, one station lets visitors place their arms into vacuum chamber glove boxes to experience the pressure differentials astronauts encounter. Another allows visitors use magnetic wands to detect iron on the moon's surface.

The interactive stations and original shows are just a few of the new ideas that the Brown Planetarium has generated.

"My brain is still formulating what we can do," Kaitchuck said. "In many ways, the facility is better than I expected it to be."

Schools welcome the educational asset to the community

Muncie area teachers and students flocked to the new planetarium, with nearly 3,600 visitors coming with school groups during the 2014-15 academic year.

Lisa Brand, a third grade teacher at East Washington Academy in Muncie, has already scheduled two field trips.

"The No. 1 thing is that it is right in our backyard and that it is free," Brand said. "People think the planetarium is just stars and the night sky, and if you're not studying that, then it doesn't apply to you. But it's so much more than that."

Brand's students were able to see shows that clearly explained class topics as complicated as light absorption.

"It's pretty abstract," she said. "We did some activities in class. But to be able to see it in person made all the difference.

"And then they're saying, 'Hey, can we come back with our family?' Of course!"

Charles W. Brown Planetarium imageSee a planetarium show

Want to "travel" through 10 million stars? The Charles W. Brown Planetarium hosts free shows throughout the year.

Check out upcoming programs.