CALDWELL — Tucked away in The College of Idaho’s Boone Hall are vast galaxies, gorgeous planets, ancient stories and the ability to travel among the stars. That’s because the hall is home to the Whittenberger Planetarium. The Idaho Press-Tribune asked Amy Truksa, the director of the Whittenberger Planetarium, about the starry skies above (and inside).
IPT: Tell us a little bit about the history of the Whittenberger Planetarium.
WP: The planetarium was purchased in 1968 and installed in Boone Hall during construction in 1970 to function primarily as a community outreach facility. It was run intermittently from 1970 to the mid-90s by a combination of physics professors, students and volunteers. In the mid-90s, the planetarium operations were turned over to the MASTER Center (Math and Science Technology Enrichment Resource Center) run by Boyd Henry. Henry then hired a director to run the planetarium, a practice the college adopted and has continued until the present time. The primary mission continues to be that of community outreach, but it is also used by various C of I departments and other colleges in the Treasure Valley.
IPT: What will visitors find when they arrive?
WP: Visitors will find an analog projector under a 23-foot dome that seats 50 people. The College of Idaho is home to the Glen L. Evans Rock and Mineral Collection. Part of that collection is open to the public most evenings when the public shows are held at no charge.
IPT: What makes the Whittenberger Planetarium unique?
WP: All shows are performed live in the Whittenberger Planetarium and audience participation is encouraged. The fluorescent minerals of the Glen L. Evans collection are housed in the planetarium for ideal viewing at the end of the programs.
IPT: What amenities are available (special presentations, classes, etc.)?
WP: I tailor the programs for groups who rent the planetarium for field trips, whether they are scouts working on badge requirements, college classes focused on stellar evolution, elementary classes focused on the solar system, or a literary group more interested in the mythological stories associated with the constellations.
Approximately every other year, I team up with Jim Cogan, a professional storyteller, to do a grand combination of constellations, planets and stories.
The topics for the public shows change every 3-4 months and often pertain to current astronomical events or scientific activities.
IPT: What should visitors bring with them when visiting the Whittenberger Planetarium?
WP: Visitors should bring a sense of adventure and humor and cash or check. We have a small flight of 10 stairs with no wheelchair accessibility.
IPT: What is the most visible constellation in the skies over the Treasure Valley tonight?
WP: Ursa major (the Big Dipper).
IPT: How do you get there from Nampa?
WP: Take the Franklin exit in Caldwell. Turn left off the exit ramp. That road is Chinden, but becomes 21st. Turn right on Blaine and immediately get into the left hand lane to turn left on 20th Street. Turn left at the corner of 20th and Fillmore into the Boone/Jewett Parking lot. Boone Hall is the two-story cement building right next to the parking lot.
IPT: Do you have any special events coming up?
WP: Our June public shows will be on June 19 and 20 at 7 p.m. The topic will be about the summer solstice and the astronomical explanations for the seasons.