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New Bays Mountain planetarium show takes viewers along as astronomers search for comets

Matthew Lane • Aug 12, 2013 at 9:25 AM

KINGSPORT — Bays Mountain Park has recently unveiled its newest planetarium show — “Comets & Discovery” — a 45-minute show about spectacular “tailed” stars, their composition and how the astronomical objects have been interpreted over time.

Adam Thanz, planetarium director at the park, said the show tells the story of two comet hunters, from a first-person perspective, from two different points in time — the 18th and 21st century. One of the comet hunters is Caroline Herschel, the famous 18th century astronomer.

“With both, viewers learn how they each searched the skies, made their discoveries and reported them for other astronomers to bear out,” Thanz said. “The show is designed to put the human element into it. It takes people to the discovery and how people interpreted comets over time.”

“Comets & Discovery” uses a blend of green-screen technology, 3-D environments, original music, still art and live actors.

The show incorporates two live sequences to enhance the learning and fun. The first live sequence will be an activity to involve and engage the audience to learn more about the parts of a comet, the path a comet takes, and the dust and ion tails that splay out in their correct directions as the comet orbits the sun.

“We’ve designed a model of a comet nucleus with ribbons for the tail and three volunteers will come out of the audience and demonstrate the path a comet takes as it moves around the sun,” Thanz said.

The second live sequence will use the planetarium’s star projector to show the current night sky and focus on Comet ISON. Comet ISON is expected to be in the early winter morning sky and be at perihelion (closest to the sun) on Thanksgiving Day.

Thanz said due to the bright glare of the sun, the comet will not be visible for a few days on either side of perihelion, with binoculars to the unaided eye as the best way to view the comet.

“Comets & Discovery” can be seen Monday through Friday at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., and on the weekends at 1 p.m., 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. Tickets are $4 per person and can be purchased at the gift shop located in the Nature Center.

The show took park staff about six months to produce and is available for worldwide distribution. Thanz said the park has received a number of orders from a variety of states, including one from overseas (Belgium).

Bays Mountain Park currently has three other planetarium shows in the works — “Discover the Stars,” “Celestial Wonders” and a kindergarten-appropriate show titled “Our Delightful Sky.”

More than 150,000 visitors pass through Bays Mountain Park every year, making it one of the State of Tennessee’s Top 50 Most Visited Attractions, according to the State of Tennessee Department of Tourist Development.

One of the nation’s largest city-owned parks with 3,550 acres, Bays Mountain Park features nearly 40 miles of hiking trails, a state-of-the-art planetarium, wildlife habitats, exhibits, a 44-acre lake, ropes course with zip line and miles of trails for mountain biking.

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