Seminole Planetarium goes all out (of this world) for Space Week

Weeklong event features media roundtable, telescope viewing and Space Nite

By Emilee Speck - Digital journalist
Headline Goes Here Carnegie-Irvine Galaxy Survey/NASA/JPL-C

NGC 1448, a galaxy with an active galactic nucleus hidden by gas and dust, is seen in this image.

ORLANDO, Fla. - Kicking off the astronomy year in a big way, the planetarium at Seminole State College will host a celebration of the cosmos with the first ever Space Week in Central Florida.

The Emil Buehler Planetarium at Seminole State College in Sanford is known for hosting a slew of public telescope viewing opportunities and a yearly Winter Sky Festival. But this event, which runs through Saturday, will be on a whole other level for Central Florida space enthusiasts.

Following a laser-show-packed weekend and a solar viewing event Monday, five members of the media who cover space exploration from Central Florida will participate in a roundtable Tuesday evening moderated by planetarium coordinator Michael McConville with questions from the live audience and on social media.

“There is so much potential for that roundtable to do something really special,” McConville said. “It’s going to be good but it has the potential to be really, really great.”

[Watch the full media roundtable recording in the video player below.]


The panel members are journalists with many years of experience covering the space industry on the Space Coast.

Orlando Sentinel veteran photojournalist Red Huber, who photographed his first launch, Apollo 15, in 1971, will offer an in-depth look at shooting some of the major breakthroughs and tragedies while photographing at NASA's Kenneday Space Center.

Lisa Malone, former director of public affairs at the Space Center, will talk about overseeing the news media for 25 years while at NASA.

Greg Pallone, News 13 Brevard County bureau chief, who has covered the Cape Canaveral Air Force Base since 2007 will bring his knowledge of the Space Coast and 22 years of experience reporting in the Southeast to the panel discussion.

Brendan Byrne, WMFE producer and host of the “Are We There Yet Mars?” space exploration podcast, will talk about following NASA’s journey to Mars through the new podcast.

Robin Seemangal, New York Observer space correspondent and contributor to Popular Science and Wired Magazine, will discuss covering SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s ambitions to eventually colonize Mars.

News 6 WKMG digital journalist Emilee Speck, a Space Coast native who covered the New Horizons spacecraft's Pluto flyby and many planetary science discoveries for the Orlando Sentinel prior to joining the News 6 team, will talk about the changes in covering the space industry and within journalism.

The discussion is free and open to the public. The planetarium will also livestream the event starting at 7 p.m.

On Wednesday, asteroid-chasing spacecraft scientist Dr. Humberto Campins will speak at the Seminole State Concert Hall for the “Stellar Speaker Series.”

Campins is one of two University of Central Florida professors working on the science team of OSIRIS-REx, NASA’s mission to retrieve asteroid samples, which launched in 2016. Associate professor Yan Fernandez, who specializes in comets and asteroids, will also work on the mission.

Campins will explain how Asteroid Bennu holds the answers to life on Earth and how these frozen space fossils could fuel future space exploration missions. OSIRIS-REx is set to arrive at Bennu in 2019 and collect a pristine sample from the asteroid’s surface.

The planetarium's powerful visualization program will provide a real-time overview of the mission during Campins' presentation.

"We get to show, almost perfectly, what will happen down to the moment when OSIRIS-REx goes in for the sample," McConville said.

While most events during the nine-day Space Week are open to space nerds of all ages, the planetarium will move "Telescope Thursday" to the downtown Orlando bar The Abbey on Thursday in collaboration with a space-themed Nerd Nite.

When McConville told Nerd Nite organizer Ricardo Williams about Space Week he wanted to be involved and so Space Nite was created.

Nerd Nite is a larger network of events that take place in more than 107 countries. The first Orlando Nerd Nite took place on Pi Day, March 14, 2013, Williams said. Now they happen every month on the second Thursday.

Seminole Planetarium Director Derek Demeter and McConville have both presented at many Nerd Nites in the past three years.

Williams said there have been other space-themed nights, but none like the one planned for Thursday.

Macbeth Studio is designing a backdrop for a photo booth and the planetarium will supply a few telescopes on The Abbey patio.

“I will most likely be in an astronaut suit,” Williams said. Dressing up in your cosmic best is encouraged.

Attendees can show up at 7 p.m., sip on their favorite brew and tune in while some of Central Floridians' favorite space experts "nerd out."  

The Daytona Beach Museum of Arts and Science curator of astronomy, Seth Mayo, will give a hands-on talk titled “Comets, and Alcohol, and Spaghettification! Oh, My!: A Hands-On Guide to the Oddities of the Universe” about astronomy and how it relates to things someone could find around the house, mainly alcohol.

Demeter, who is also the Central Florida Astronomical Society president, will present the “top ten things about the universe that will blow your mind."

And last, but sure to be a crowd pleaser, McConville will take on the fascinating subject of death in space with “Death by Snu Snu or: All The Ways That Space Will Kill You.”

McConville said he expects it to be the greatest presentation he gives all year (no pressure).

"Just because Elon (Musk) says a million people will go to Mars doesn’t mean 1 million people actually make it to Mars,” McConville said.

From the mundane to the serious dilemmas of space exploration McConville plans to remind people, according to the Nerd Nite event page, “in space, no one can hear you scream, but they might see you boil.”

Oh my.

Space Week 2017 will close out with a second round of weekend laser shows on Friday and Saturday and finally the Winter Sky Festival. The annual astronomy festival includes telescopes to view Venus, Mars and star clusters with the help of volunteers from the Central Florida Astronomical Society.

People are encouraged to bring chairs and blankets to the outdoor star party.

McConville said Space Week is a great tribute to an astronomically significant year. In August, the U.S. will have front row seats for the first time in almost 40 years to a total solar eclipse, known as the Great American Total Solar Eclipse.

If you go:

Where: Emil Buehler Planetarium at Seminole State College 100 Weldon Boulevard, Sanford, Florida

When: January 6- January 14. Find a full list of Space Week events and RSVP on Facebook here.

Cost: Everything is free but the laser shows. Admission starts at $5 for students. Bring money for food trucks during the Winter Sky Festival.

RSVP to Space Nite and get tickets here. The donation suggestion is $10.


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