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The constellation prize

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Students gazed up at a starry sky from the inside of the auditorium at Chamlian Armenian School on Thursday, picking out constellations and locating the North Star.

The children learned about the solar system and the Milky Way galaxy while ensconced under a billowing tarp known as the Sky Dome Planetarium. The mobile planetarium, which is a program run by Mobile Ed Productions, a Michigan-based educational programming company, was spending the day at the school for the first time to teach students about astronomy, said Rita Kaprielian, the school’s vice principal.

“We don’t see the stars as much as we used to,” Kaprielian said.

Students sat in the belly of the 15-foot-high, 36-foot-wide planetarium, which was set up in the school’s auditorium, and listened to Mario Tomic, a presenter from Mobile Ed, explain some basic concepts of astronomy.

In the darkened planetarium, Tomic showed the students bright photos of planets like Mars and Venus, and explained how it took each planet a different amount of time to circle the sun, so that each planet’s years were different lengths.

While on Earth, the third-graders in the planetarium were 8 years old, on Mars — which has years that are 687 days long — the students would be half as old.

“So now, you’re 4 years old, something like that,” Tomic said.

He talked about the Big Bang Theory, the Hubble Space Telescope and black holes, but the students’ gasps of excitement really began when Tomic illuminated the ceiling and walls of the planetarium with stars.

He explained how different cultures invented different characters out of the patterns of stars they saw in the sky.

“They created all kinds of images to find some kind of order in the overwhelming chaos of the night sky,” Tomic said.

He showed the students how to recognize constellations such as the Great Bear, the Little Bear, Orion and particular stars like the North Star and the Dog Star.

“We are facing north,” Tomic said after showing the students the North Star. “We are not lost anymore.”

At Tomic’s invitation, Nicco Hartounian, 8, stood up and used a laser pointer to show his classmates the constellations that Tomic had taught them.

As the school’s third-graders emerged from the darkened dome, shading their eyes from the sunny day, they said they loved seeing the stars projected on the ceiling and walls of the dome, and they had picked up some new facts, too.

“I didn’t know that there were gas planets,” said Edwin Daneelian, 8.

Despite this new knowledge, Earth remained his favorite planet, Edwin said.

“I never knew that Pluto wasn’t a planet anymore,” said Shant Hambarchian, 8, referring to the fact that Pluto has been relabeled a “dwarf planet” by astronomers.

Third-grade teacher Jennifer Shamoyan said her students would be starting a unit on the solar system next week so the assembly was a good preview.

“He covered a lot of things that we are going to cover,” Shamoyan said.


 ANGELA HOKANSON covers education. She may be reached at (818) 637-3238 or by e-mail at angela.hokanson@ latimes.com.


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