We’ve all heard the song.
“The stars at night, are big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas.”
For Rio Grande Valley students visiting the H-E-B UTRGV Planetarium on the university’s Edinburg Campus, the stars shine big and bright during classes and field trips to the facility.
UTRGV honored the 55th anniversary of the planetarium on Friday, April 27, during a ceremony that included guests and speakers celebrating the years of exploration and science education the center has provided for students across campuses and beyond.
“The H-E-B Planetarium has provided services to the UTRGV community, students and faculty, and the public, to learn more about the stars through science,” said Dr. Cristina Villalobos, professor in the UTRGV School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences and director of the Center of Excellence in STEM Education.
“We offer these services to inform the public on science literacy and help spark interest in K-12 students, since we now need so many future scientists, technicians, engineers and computer specialists.”
Established in 1963 at Pan American College on what is today the UTRGV Edinburg Campus, it is the oldest building on the Edinburg Campus. It was built during the “space race,” when nations were competing for space-exploration firsts, and throughout the 1960s, the facility saw thousands of community members and students gazing up at stars projected in the dome by a system donated by the U.S. Air Force Base in Harlingen.
Throughout the years, although the buildings around the planetarium changed, the actual site of the facility was left intact and untouched. In fact, the modern-day Science Department was built around the planetarium, meant to preserve its ability to inspire students to look up at the night sky, and wonder.
Ten years ago, a partnership with Dr. John Gerling of Gerling Orthodontics in McAllen and the H-E-B Foundation made it possible to completely renovate the planetarium, providing new digital capabilities and informative, interactive videos at the touch of a button.
“H-E-B has been a long-standing partner with UTRGV and legacy institution UTPA,” said Yvonne Loflin, H-E-B public affairs specialist for the border region. “I think this planetarium is important because it’s very unique to the Valley, and it allows students to see something new and different and think outside the box. It allows children to be visionaries, and to strive to be something above and beyond.”
Videos on space exploration, the history of dinosaurs and even the human anatomy are available for school field trips, organization presentations, and anyone curious to expand their knowledge.
Along with renovations, a portable dome service has been incorporated to bring the wonders of space to students at their schools. Presentations are 30 minutes to an hour, and provide full-dome films with information geared toward specific grade levels.
The H-E-B UTRGV Planetarium is run by director Hector Leal and staff members Sara Fillman, Chelsea Lyssy and Sandra Martinez. Leal said students, staff, faculty and the community are welcome to pop into the planetarium to view a video. All they have to do is call ahead of time.
“We encourage people to come out to the planetarium and see what it has to offer,” Leal said. “Students are always amazed by the videos and all the great services the facility provides. We offer much more than what the name represents.”
Every Tuesday night, telescopes provided by the UTRGV Science Department are available until 9 p.m. outside the planetarium to get a better view of the stars. These events are free and open to the public.
For more information on the H-E-B UTRGV Planetarium and its events, visit www.utrgv.edu/planetarium.