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Under the dome, mosquitoes are never in season, the clouds do not interfere and the temperatures are always pleasant. But above all, the stars come out at the right time.

During my short stay at the Seymour Planetarium, I dimmed the lights and fed the Korkosz starball a few thousand times. In virtually all cases, the audience – whether children or adults – responded with audible pleasure. I have come to expect this from every new gathering and have enjoyed it every time. I am convinced that any chain of operators and presenters who have come before me and after, would tell a similar story.

The Seymour Planetarium at the Springfield Science Museum is now 80 years old. It is the oldest planetarium in the country, and one of the most beautiful countries in Springfield claims fame. At its heart is the Korkosz projector, also called “the starball” by those who know it best. It is the oldest American-made star projector in the world, designed and built during the Great Depression by brothers Frank and John the Korkosz of Chicopee.

The first public exhibits at the Seymour Planetarium at the Springfield Science Museum were presented on November 2, 1937. Two weeks earlier, Mayor Henry Martens and City Council got a glimpse of them. It’s not hard to imagine the excitement brothers Frank and John Korkosz must have felt when they first dimmed the lights to reveal the “stars” they created sprayed onto the dark dome. .

As a child, Frank Korkosz was inspired by the appearance of Halley’s comet in 1910 and then built a rudimentary comet projector with a box of dynamite and a carbide lamp. He would have made the neighbors pay a penny to see his shows.

Starball was Frank’s idea. Together with his younger brother John, who helped bring it to life through his engineering skills, they have spent years overcoming many challenges involving optics, lighting, intricate gears, and the fabrication of the bullet itself. same.

When they finished building their machine, they strove to share the fruits of their labor of love with others. They were not disappointed. Their futuristic-looking electromechanical device quickly attracted school classes and visitors from far beyond Springfield, aviators from Westover Field who learned there celestial navigation and the attention of other institutions across the country. country.

There were, at the time, few places in the world where one could attend such a spectacle. Only five other planetariums were operating in the United States. Four used German-made Carl Zeiss projectors, all of which have been replaced by newer models. The fifth, a small Californian installation built by the Rosicrucians, no longer exists.

Like the Zeiss projectors, the Korkosz was designed to display constellations and their movements at night. It is also able to take you on a virtual journey to the equator, where the stars rising in the east pass directly overhead and set in the west. It can take you north to the Pole, where the stars neither rise nor set, but circle the horizon.

Between presentations, or during the development of new shows, I have occasionally projected the celestial equator and ecliptic onto the sky, and a meridian to mark the latitude, to better understand many of the surprisingly confusing movements of the sky. These lessons have proven to be essential.

One day in 1984, Frank Korkosz unexpectedly showed up at one of my presentations. He was ill and seemed ready to sit quietly, but I decided to introduce him to the public. Cautiously, I explained his role in creating the theater in which they were seated. The spontaneous applause made me jump, but lifted him to his feet. He beamed, standing there in his planetarium nearly half a century later.

In 1987, while producing a show celebrating the planetarium’s 50th anniversary, John – who had worked behind his brother’s shadow on design and engineering issues – told me that Frank “continued to add little things, “but that the starball was still essentially the same as when it was built.

The smell of burnt insulation in the control panel in 1984 prompted a redesigned console and new wiring to the starball. My friend and boss, Bob Staron, helped me buy a new projector, which later allowed me to show interviews with Frank and John during the planetarium’s 50th anniversary. Additional media content came later, as did computer control for greater flexibility and variety.

The skies of our valley are suffering from more lost light than ever before, leaving fewer locals familiar with the night. The planetarium mimics the nights we lost.

In 1997, Springfield Stars Club members Steve Pielock and Richard Sanderson (now curator of physical sciences at the Springfield Science Museum) cleaned up and corrected damage in all 41 star projection assemblies, rekindling the starry sky experience though essential to the planetarium experience.

While we have become (some of us anyway) used to today’s digital devices that are quickly becoming obsolete, the Korkosz projector, an analog device, persists after 80 years. The Seymour Planetarium has opened its doors to hundreds of thousands of visitors and has caught the imagination of many. Now, as pixels come and go, it’s reminiscent of the forgotten power of analog visuals.

Frank Korkosz died in January 1987, just months before the planetarium’s 50th anniversary, and John in September 1994. Their legacy should enrich Springfield for years to come.

On the Planetarium’s 75th anniversary five years ago, it was announced that asteroid 243262 Korkosz, orbiting the sun between Mars and Jupiter, was named in honor of Frank and John Korkosz.

Last month, Dr. Richard Scott, who designed the optics for the 20-inch telescope on the roof of the Science Museum, passed away. He was a good friend among local amateur astronomers and he will be missed.

* * *

The stars are food for the soul, as important to our well-being as the sun and the blue sky, so why not take advantage of our suddenly too early twilight to observe the stars.

As the day evaporates and the stars appear, the large summer triangle pattern – which persists high in the west even as we head into the second half of fall – descends and will eventually leave the evening scene.

Make sure to find the Milky Way’s faint river of light running through it from northeast to southwest. Put as much distance as you can between yourself and the city lights for the best views. Later, the bright stars of winter, including Orion the hunter, begin to appear in the east.

On Friday morning November 17, the annual Leonid meteor shower peaks before dawn in a moonless sky.

Find times of sunrise, sunset and moon, and follow ever-changing celestial highlights in the Skywatch section of the Daily Republican and Sunday Republican Weather Almanac.

Patrick Rowan has been writing Skywatch for The Republican since 1987 and contributing to Weather Almanac since the mid-1990s. A native of Long Island, Rowan graduated from Northampton High School, studied astronomy at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst in the United States. 1970s and was a research assistant for the Five College Radio Astronomy Observatory. From 1981 to 1994, Rowan worked at the Seymour Planetarium at the Springfield Science Museum, mostly as director of the planetarium. Rowan lives in the Florence section of Northampton with his wife, Clara.

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