SPRINGFIELD (MA)—Like so many groups during the pandemic, the Springfield Museums’ Stars over Springfield program shifted to virtual presentations in order to stay connected with its dedicated star-enthusiasts. Successfully viewing the stars together, inside, in front of a computer has everything to do with technology, ingenuity, and a can-do attitude. Astronomy educator Kevin Kopchynski has all three!
Kevin, who facilitates programing in the Seymour Planetarium at the Springfield Museums, discovered a number of digital tools that allow viewers to simulate traveling through space. “Once I found these programs,” Kevin said, “I was able to ‘bring’ people out into space to view the stars, planets, and night sky in a whole new and very exciting way.” A way he hopes deepens their enthusiasm for astronomy—and it seems to be working.
Mike Kerr, who leads the Science Museum, helps to facilitate the Stars over Springfield program. The virtual gathering in January proved one of the most engaging conversations he has witnessed virtually: “The questions just kept pouring in—in fact way past our end time, but I kept them coming because we didn’t want to stem the curiosity!”
In pre-pandemic days, the main focus of “Stars over Springfield” was to allow members and friends to use the Museums’ rooftop observatory with its 20-inch telescope. “This is truly a remarkable resource for the region,” Mike said. “The telescope took four years to build by hand by members of the Stars Club! It was completed in 1972.”
During the pandemic, the model is to gather virtually via zoom, sometimes feature a guest speaker, and always discuss the night sky—really not too far from the in-person program. “Because we were unable to use our observatory, the challenge became one of, how do we replicate the telescope viewing experience?” Mike said. “The solution emerged when Kevin found the programs that allow us to still see the stars, only in a different way.”
As we move to the other side of the pandemic, when it is safe to gather together again, the Stars over Springfield program will go back to in-person presentations. The group has certainly gained from its adaptations. “We’ve always been aware of the keen interest that people have in astronomy, but through these experiences we’ve also learned that our audience is just as eager to explore these wonderful topics virtually,” Mike said. “And soon we hope to connect our observatory itself to the web, bringing our telescope’s views directly to people wherever they’re located!”
The Stars over Springfield program is organized by the Museums in partnership with the Springfield Stars Club. The program takes place on the first Friday of each month, from 7-8:30 pm.
Stars over Springfield is best suited for families with children ages 8 and older, however younger children are also welcome. The virtual gatherings are free, though the Museum will happily take donations. When in person, the admission is $3 for adults and $2 for children 17 and under. The programs are held rain or shine. When meeting in person, if it is cloudy, a planetarium is presented in place of telescope viewing.
For information about astronomy programs at the Springfield Science Museum, please call 413-263-6800, ext. 318.
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About The Springfield Museums
THE SPRINGFIELD MUSEUMS are located on the Quadrangle at 21 Edwards Street in the heart of downtown Springfield, Massachusetts. The nationally accredited and Smithsonian-affiliated consortium of museums includes the Springfield Science Museum, the Michele and Donald D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts, the Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History, the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum, the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden, and the Amazing World of Dr. SeussMuseum, the first and only museum dedicated to the beloved children’s book author and Springfield native.