Planetarium uses stars, teaches Mayan history

The FMU Dooley Planetarium presented “Tales of the Maya Skies” to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month.

Director of Dooley Planetarium Dr. Jeannette Meyers led the presentation. According to Meyers, the ancient Mayan culture was able to use solar, planetary and star movements to create calendars and understand the concept of seasons.

Meyers said the Mayan culture originated in Central America and was one of the most advanced ancient societies thanks to its astronomical and mathematical abilities.

The presentation used animated stories to demonstrate what the ancient cities would have looked like. Many aspects of the Mayan civilization were based upon the Mayans’ discoveries in astronomy. According to the show, understanding Mayan views about the sky gives insight into the culture as a whole.

Meyers said the importance of running the show for Hispanic Heritage Month to demonstrate how the sky was a key piece of Mayan culture.

“This presentation specifically is a lot about how the Mayans viewed the sky which is very important for people trying to expand what their heritage is,” Meyers said. “I love looking for programs like this that go into the kind of stories and ideas they had about the nighttime sky.”

Meyers said the Mayans did not have calculators, yet they were able to predict eclipses and align massive buildings in their cities with the risings of the planet Venus, the sun and the moon.

“It’s amazing what they were able to do,” Meyers said.

“Tales of the Maya Skies” attracted a large audience, and almost every seat in the planetarium was filled. Audience members ranged from young children to FMU students and elderly couples.

Two audience members, Brittany and Kim Flax, said they heard about the showing from the Pee Dee Tourism Information Center.

Meyers ended the show with a demonstration of how to find celestial objects in the sky on the planetarium’s dome. Andromeda, Pegasus, Cassiopeia, Ursa Major and Ursa Minor were a few constellations Meyers said would be out that night. Meyers also showed attendees where to find the planets Jupiter, Saturn, Venus, Mars and Mercury, which would all be visible at some point that night or early the next morning.

The next public planetarium show, “Are We Alone,” will be on Oct. 22 at 3 p.m.