Tuesday, September 09, 2008 | |

Two weeks ago at Nerstrand-Big Woods State Park.

An email I sent tonight to the Hennepin County board of commissioners regarding the vote (due to be held on Tuesday afternoon) as to whether or not to build a planetarium at the main library branch in downtown Minneapolis:

Dear Hennepin County Commissioners,

I’m a U of M undergraduate student in astrophysics and astronomy and I’m writing to encourage you to approve the MPSDC’s proposal for the planetarium at the downtown library. It’s often hard for supporters to justify funding for space-related projects--its technological applications and economic benefits are less visible than those of more applied sciences, and there never seems to be enough money to support the social services we’d like to see in our society. Nevertheless, in a globalized world in which science and technology is playing an increasingly vital role, I think astronomy is unique, for it acts as perhaps the greatest gateway to the sciences for so many children and aspiring scientists. It is, of course, the oldest science, as originally practiced by cavemen, primitive societies, and ancient civilizations. It was the movement of the planets and the moons that prompted Galileo and Newton to pursue their studies that kickstarted the scientific revolution, and it has continued to inspire humanity ever since--I myself can say unequivocally that my love for looking at the stars has led me to pursue a career in the sciences.

I’m currently entering my fourth and final year as an undergrad at the U, and in addition to serving in research and teaching assistant capacities, I’ve had the great luck to be able to work with the astronomy department’s outreach program over the summer. Each Friday and Saturday night, graduate and undergraduate students from the department travel to a state park around Minnesota and give open presentations and set up telescopes for public viewings. I constantly see kids of all ages who really respond to astronomy when we present it to them. When they look through a telescope and see the moons of Jupiter as Galileo saw them 450 years ago, I can see their thirst for knowledge turning on their scientific curiosity, just itching to be satisfied. But their parents inevitably ask, “Where can we get involved? Where can we take our kid so she can keep at this?”

These kids need an outlet, a focal point for our community’s resources (and we are privileged, for they are many,) where they can pursue their curiosity with people who share their interests and where they can learn from those who can teach them. We do our best in the department to help as much as we can, but there is so much more that could be done with a community resource like the planetarium downtown. I know there are concerns that it would be a distraction from the county library network’s core mission, but I can’t think of a better way to enhance a resource that’s intended to be a repository of human knowledge than to supplement it with one that nourishes the continuing quest to expand it.

I sincerely hope you consider voting for the proposal; from my vantage point, I consider it one of the greatest possible additions to our community. Thank you for your time and for your service.