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Planetarium brings the stars to St. Al

The students at Vicksburg Catholic Schools got an out of this world visit Friday.

A mobile planetarium called the Digital Starlab from the University of Mississippi Center for Mathematics and Science Education was set up in the St. Aloysius gymnasium Friday. The Digital Starlab has the appearance of an igloo on the outside and is made of a soft material inflated with air.

“A lot of schools don’t have the funding to send their kids out on field trips,” Amanda Pham, a VISTA volunteer, said. “So we’re bringing a field trip to the school and to the students.”

Pham and Paige Johnsen, a graduate research fellow, gave their presentation 12 different times to students from pre-K to seventh grade. The presentation started on Earth with a view of the sunrise and sunset with the constellations in between. A trip to the moon was next, followed by a look at the entire solar system and then the galaxy. 

“It really helps to bring this information that their teachers are teaching them in class, for them to actually be able to see what they’re talking about. It makes it a little more real life and it sticks a little bit better,” Johnsen said.

The school’s STEM lab teacher Gloria Pettitt said the center sent her a box full of educational material, and she used the information and equipment in her class the week leading up to the planetarium visit.

“The kids actually learned a lot of this stuff that they brought to life today,” she said. “They come to me once a week and for 50 minutes they got to play with different telescopes and learn just how big the solar system is.”

Fifth grader Christian Harris said the Digital Starlab was a wonderful experience, and she learned a number of space facts from her time in the planetarium.

“She told us about the Milky Way, and she told us about where the constellations were,” she said. “They told us that they called it the Milky Way because it looked like somebody had spilled milk.”

James Powell, a fifth grade student, said his class was able to see pictures of different galaxies and so much more.

“We saw the stars and the constellations. They made it look like we were on the moon,” he said. “It looks so small on the outside, but its looks really big on the inside.”

Powell enjoyed the visit from the planetarium and was glad he got to have the experience at his school.

“I think it’s really cool that they came here, and we’re a lucky school to be able to have this,” he said.

The Vicksburg Catholic Schools PTO booked the visit from the planetarium at the school and plan to bring it back next year. The mobile planetarium travels to different schools about once a week, and Pham said the Digital Starlab was booked through the year.