It is no secret that The College of New Jersey’s School of Science hosts an impressive array of state-of-the-art facilities encouraged for use by students, but did you know about the School’s very own, student and faculty-operated planetarium and astronomical observatory?
Located in the Physics and Math Building (Science Complex) in room P-115, the Paul S. Hiack Planetarium offers a 40-seat capacity, equipped with both a Zeiss and Digitalis projector. Throughout the semester, the TCNJ Physics Department orchestrates monthly planetarium shows, presenting student-led exhibits open to both the College community and beyond.
Michael Pedowitz, a senior Physics major and a planetarium technician, sees TCNJ’s planetarium as a unique asset benefiting students and the campus community at large. He emphasizes the immersive experience the planetarium provides, enabling individuals to learn, stargaze, and imagine alongside undergraduate technicians like himself.
“Learning about space isn’t something best done through a textbook, website, or even the most engaging videos,” Michael explained.
“It is best done when you can see space above and around you, and where the observatory is sometimes limited by clouds, light pollution, or technological limits, we can view the night sky in an unlimited number of unique ways inside the planetarium.”
The Planetarium shows are far more than simple presentations—they are engaging narratives that transport audiences to extrasolar worlds, allowing them to learn and witness astronomical phenomena through diverse cultural and even historical lenses.
Sophomore Computer Science Major and fellow planetarium technician, Joe Petrecca explained, “The planetarium isn’t just a room with projectors; it’s a gateway to infinite possibilities. Here, we turn ‘We have a planetarium?’ into ‘We have a universe to explore!”
As a place where participants are encouraged to engage in a heightened visual experience as they learn about the cosmos, Michael and Joe emphasize that the planetarium is a place for creativity and imagination, which sets it apart from other, more traditional learning methods.
“The planetarium is a place for creativity. In my experience, the best planetarium shows are the ones that tell engaging stories about space and reimagine the cosmos in unique ways. We can visit extrasolar worlds and visualize what life might look like there, learn about astronomy through the eyes of another culture, or even travel to a galaxy far, far away,” Michael continued.
Reflecting on his experiences within the facility, Joe explained, “The magic of the planetarium is not just in the stars it projects but in the eyes of those who, in awe, realize that a universe has been waiting for them all along.”
For Connor McNeill, a senior Physics major and planetarium technician, the facility also serves as a bridge between the scientific community and the public, offering an opportunity to not just witness the wonders of the night sky but to delve into the mysteries beyond.
“The planetarium is a hidden gem here at the College that allows us to bridge the gap between science and the general public. It can bring everyone under one roof – or dome, rather – to not only be in awe of the night sky with what we can see but also with what we can’t.”
Connor continued, “We can give tours of our cosmic neighborhood in such a way that is both engaging and entertaining for the audience. Sure, someone can see images online of what a certain celestial object looks like, but the unique part of a planetarium is that you move seamlessly from place to place to give the audience a sense of the scale of everything around them.”
The TCNJ Physics department remains committed to ensuring accessibility to these facilities for all members of the campus community and beyond, underlining the belief that there’s something for everyone to relish in and learn from at the planetarium.
So, whether you’re a student with a deep fascination for the stars or someone seeking a unique and creative learning experience, TCNJ’s School of Science facilities can quite literally open your eyes to an entirely new world.
Reflecting on the unique nature of the field, Connor noted, “One of the many beauties of astronomy is that whether you are trying to piece together the evolution of galaxies or simply gazing up at the stars in your backyard, there is an equal fascination with the vastness of the universe. It is in our human nature to question the cosmos, otherwise, astronomy wouldn’t be the oldest branch of science.”
Written by School of Science Student Journalist, Jax DiEugenio