ROSS TWP. — A big silver inflatable dome set up in Ross Elementary School’s gymnasium sparked the natural curiosity of its students.
Inside the dome, the universe awaited.
The inflatable dome is a planetarium designed to expose children to the wonders of outer space.
Rodney Watkins, an independent contractor with Sky Dome Mobile Ed Productions Inc., guided kindergarten through sixth-grade students through a virtual interstellar journey on May 11.
Watkins tailors his program to fit the level of comprehension of the students, noting the older the children the more in-depth the presentation.
The program was something Michelle Hryvnak, vice president of the Ross Elementary School Parent Teacher Organization, found online and suggested bringing it to the school, PTO member Jolene Palmer said.
“It is the first year we hosted Sky Dome,” Palmer said. “It was very educational.”
Watkins guided nearly 60 kindergarten and first-grade classes, highlighting facts about the eight-planet solar system and constellations.
As the students sat inside the dome and raised their eyes skyward, the lights dimmed and the Milky Way appeared on the ceiling.
“We are not going into outer space, but it is going to feel like it,” Watkins said. “We are going to start with the galaxy we live in. Everyone say ‘Milky Way.’”
Earth’s solar system is around two-thirds of the way out of the center of the Milky Way, circling “our sun,” he said.
Facts about the sun held the most interest for kindergartners Robby Wilson and Lily Appel.
“I liked that the sun was made of hot gas,” Wilson said.
Appel liked learning that the sun is a star.
“The sun is the largest part of the solar system,” Watkins said. “The sun is the hottest thing in the solar system. The sun is a star.”
From the center of the solar system, Watkins leaped from planet to planet starting with Mercury.
“Mercury is the closest to the sun, but Mercury is not the hottest planet,” Watkins said.
He explained Mercury does not have an atmosphere to trap the heat so, as the planet rotates, the surface that faced the sun soon cools off.
Venus is the hottest planet, Watkins said.
Under Venus’ clouds, the planet has lava, mountains and deserts, he said.
Earth, the third planet from the sun, “is the only planet with liquid water and the only one with people on it,” Watkins told the students.
“Mars is like a bike that was left in the rain,” Watkins said. “What happens to a bike in the rain?”
“It gets rusty,” the students shouted.
Watkins said Mars gets its red, rusty, color because the planet contains a lot of iron oxide.
Jupiter is the largest planet in the solar system.
“Eleven planet earths can fit inside Jupiter,” he said. “Two earths can fit into Jupiter’s ‘Great Red Spot,’” which is a giant storm.
Watkins even mentioned former planet Pluto.
“Pluto was found by an 11-year-old girl,” he said. “It was a planet then it was classified as not a planet, and now it is something in between. It is a dwarf planet.”
At the end of the hour-long program, the children crawled out of the inflatable planetarium chattering about the planets.
Watkins said he is continually upgrading the information in his presentation, sometimes weekly, as new discoveries are made in space.