Kids take a shine to Starlab at library event

JOHNSTOWN – The stars came out inside the Johnstown Public Library on Wednesday afternoon.

The Dudley Observatory in Schenectady set up Starlab – a 16-foot portable dome inside the Children’s Room – much to the delight of about 100 children who entered the structure in groups throughout the afternoon.

“I like the stars and stuff, it was cool,” said wide-eyed P.J. Cronin, as he exited Starlab.

The boy, who enters the second grade this fall at Glebe Street Elementary School, was accompanied by his mother, Sue, who was equally impressed.

“It’s educational,” she said. “Anything that gets the kids to think during the summer is good.”

What the Dudley Observatory had children thinking about Wednesday was astronomy. Five workshops were conducted for a variety of ages throughout the afternoon inside Starlab. As part of the library’s Summer Reading Program, the kids were abuzz as Megan Dominguez, Starlab instructor, electronically inflated the giant planetarium that almost went to the top of the ceiling.

“We’ve been doing this several times a week at [regional] libraries,” Dominguez explained. “It’s been well received. It’s fun for everyone.”

Library Director Erica Wing credited the efforts of the Friends of the Johnstown Public Library, the library’s support group, which helped pay for the event. She declined to say the cost of the program.

According to the Dudley Observatory website, Starlab, when unpacked and inflated, transforms into a 16-foot dome that accommodates up to 28 students and is handicapped accessible.

“A projector and subject cylinders introduce participants to astronomical topics through exciting graphics projected on the dome’s interior,” the site says. “All that is needed is floor space, an electrical outlet and enthusiastic sky-gazers.”

The children were ushered through a small opening, much like a normal tent opening, to get into Starlab. Once inside, it was also like a normal campfire scene, as Dominguez had the children sit around the outer part of Starlab in a circle as she prepared them for their celestial experience. She told the children, she would gradually lower the inside projector lights as she lit up the top of the dome with images of constellations.

Little faces peered upward, as Starlab kept out any of the external lighting from the library during the presentation.

“It’s a very fancy tent,” Dominguez told the children. “We’re going to project the night sky.”

Cronin was part of the group of students – kindergarten through second grade – who got to enter Starlab first in a workshop called “As the Earth Spins.” The workshop asked questions like: “What are constellations? Where does the sun rise and set? What will we see in the sky tonight?” Students looked for patterns and made predictions based on the rotation of the Earth.

Other workshops through the afternoon for older children touched on topics such as seasonal stargazing, Native American constellations and Greek mythology and seasonal constellations.

The Gloversville Public Library will host a similar program with the Dudley Observatory Starlab at 1 p.m. Wednesday as part of its Summer Reading Program. Reservations for that program are required by calling 725-2819.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at manich@leaderherald.com.