While The University of Toledo Ritter Planetarium is closed during the COVID-19 shutdown, parents and teachers can set up live chats for their children with an astronomer.
Dr. Michael Cushing, associate professor of physics and astronomy, and director of Ritter Planetarium, is available to answer questions from home through Zoom, Skype and FaceTime with individual children or groups of children in elementary school.
“My wife and I have a 7-year-old daughter, so we understand that parents are looking for something educational and fun to do with their children stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic,” Cushing said. “When I was a child — I was too shy to do it — but I would’ve loved nothing more than to talk to an actual astronomer. These kinds of interactions can really inspire a young person, and I hope that I can provide some of that inspiration by chatting with them about what it is like to be an astronomer.”
During virtual meetings, Cushing has fielded questions about shooting stars, planets, exoplanets, the rings around planets, and even “Star Wars” movies.
“When chatting with one young girl, we spent about 10 minutes on ‘Star Wars’ after she asked why I wanted to become an astronomer,” Cushing said. “When I was 4 or 5, ‘Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope’ was re-released in theaters, and watching that star destroyer come fly over me was a really impactful event in my life because I fell in love with all things space. I’m happy to talk more about ‘Star Wars,’ as well as answer questions about anything from aliens to the moon to black holes.”
Ritter Planetarium also is offering free programs that families can watch online: “Dinosaurs at Dusk,” “Birth of Planet Earth” and “Dynamic Earth.” Links to the videos are available at Ritter Planetarium’s website.