Man In The Moon

Dec 25


Linda Vissat

Linda Vissat

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I invite you to explore the idea of supporting your nearest planetarium and explore one man's commitment to that noble cause.


Juneau,Man In The Moon Articles Alaska sits in the middle of a northwest coastal rainforest in a maritime climate, receiving an average of 222 days of rain per year.  Clouds drop onto the "hills of the Tlingit".  According to Ben, a local native, "The transplants," he chuckled, "call those hills "mountains"."  The sky can't be seen, but people still see within the range of the microclimate bubbles and pockets, when the clouds allow it.  Misty rain during any given day just doesn't let up. 

But I was there on a "rare" sunny day.  Telescopes were set up outside on the concrete pads outside of Harborview School the night of the show so patrons could view the sun.  It was 7:00 p.m.  The sun was high.  It was Alaska in June. 

A priceless preview of this planet's premium star started the evening's performance.  One telescope was set to view sunspots, and the other to view solar flares.   This was personal equipment belonging to the Planetarium's curator, Michael Orelove.  

I was the first on the scene to see the star show.  Well, I wasn't alone.  Michael was there.  Being a scientist he wears a nutty professor look and wears it well.  His attire was apropos; the shirt was speckled with dancing yellow swirls resembling pools of sunspots on a red background.   He is a tall man with short, wiry, gray hair.  Effervescent energy oozes from his pores even animating his shirt as he flitted about. "We may be the only ones who show up for this since it's such a sunny day," he said as he eyed me over his wire-rim glasses. 

After that statement, we were both surprised when an unusual drove of avid star-finders began appearing.  As though previous coaching had taken place, many helped Michael hand out flyers, star charts, and crayons.  I helped with instruction to the children on the use of a simple solar viewer and felt like a kid myself when I fully realized the earth's movement as the sun's image drifted off the paper.  Skeptics thought spots on the lens were lint, but wowed at the flaming limbs of fire when they saw storms on the sun.

Personally, I was mesmerized by the sun's image as it moved off the paper.  I swooned and was thankful for gravity, because I felt pulled by the sun and earth at the same time.  For one fleeting moment, even though it was sunny, I was in a mist (mythst).  Heightened awareness occurred and I realized our language in describing the rise and set of the sun is a common mistake.  The sun appears to rise and set, when  in fact, our earth moves, and we take it for granted.

With over forty in attendance Michael's excitement filtering into his dialogue, that stumbled along with his feet.  He was thrown for a loop.  Perhaps he couldn't see in the dark to set the longitudes and latitudes of the star-finder, or, perhaps he found himself in the common Juneau mist for other reasons. 

Before beginning, he asked, "Are you single, oh, and are you a local?  May I call you, or you can just come down here and become a volunteer.  You can be my assistant.  Here's my card."  Printed on the card was Mt. Juneau Observatory, Michael Orelove.  For an instant I felt a little heady.  He enthusiastically added, "I will teach you how to run and operate the machine that holds the stars."  What a priceless opportunity!  Of course, I agreed.  Neither of us confirmed how long. 

Astronomy is a valuable tool.  It raises pubic awareness of science through education and introduces scientific concepts and the process of scientific thinking to students at all levels.

According to The National Academies Press ( under funding of astronomy is a growing concern causing the United States to lose its leadership position in those fields.  Demographic numbers impact funding; combined U.S. membership in the American Astronomical Society (AAS) and American Physical Society, Division of Astrophysics (APS) in 1998 was around 6500.

There are 498 Planetariums across the United States.  Whatever Federal funding was received for these ground-based astronomy facilities was provided by the National Science Foundation, according to a 1991 report.  Space research is funded through the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.  The figure from state and private funds came in at $190 million a year.  (

The three planetariums in Alaska, all housed in schools, provide on going education for Alaskan youth.  Corporate sponsors provide major funding for Alaska's Planetariums, and dedicated curators add to the mix, sometimes in what might be considered "eccentric" ways. 

According to Michael the state doesn't offer much, if any, support. Volunteers are needed.  Right now Michael is the only one.  He even went as far as Chicago to complete a Solstice Project he was working on.  He accomplished many things on the trip; a release from the grip of "creative block", a visit and stay with his brother, camaraderie and bonding with his eleven year old niece, Eden, and along with her help, the completion of the Solstice Project.  Michael is a transplant to Alaska himself.

While in Chicago Michael had a lengthy conversation with Ron Farrell at Bethany Sciences in Connecticut.  He had racked his brain for ideas for the project long enough and suddenly the "nutty professor" image took hold of him.  He even thought it was zany, but he paid $1,000.00 for a bag of rocks.  Not just any rocks, mind you.  What we had here were authentic and certified rocks from Mars and a fragment from the Moon. 

Fragments were taped to certificates Michael and Eden created together.  Michael's face smiles happily on the upper right corner and he has a title.  It is now, "Man in the Moon".  Michael in his planetarium world has control over the sun.  His respite from controlling clouds during usual days of mist is found inside this world.  Michael causes the sun to rise and set, where and for how long.  I too am a proud owner of a piece of Mars and the Moon and I couldn't be happier.

The night of the presentation I received a message.  These words say it best…

"As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same."

[Marianne Williamson] [Nelson Mandela used this at his inauguration speech in 1994]

Often Michael mentioned the sun when it appeared on the ceiling of the planetarium dome and referred to it saying, …"Now that's a rare site in Juneau." 

Mr. Orelove's light and love shines for the Planetarium.  I'm thankful I was let to see it.  Michael is a "rare" event. 

Please show your support of Michael Orelove and the Marie Drake Planetarium by joining and/or volunteering with Michael at show times:  First Tuesday and Wednesday of each month, 7:00 p.m. in the planetarium (North of Harborview School and South of the Public Swimming Pool).  Donations are gladly accepted by the Friends of Marie Drake Planetarium Fund: c/o Michael Orelove, 340 Irwin St., Juneau, AK  99801 907-586-3034.  Call for more information, or become a volunteer when you are in the area.

Marie Drake Planetarium location is 10014 Crazy Horse Drive, Juneau, AK 99801, and the website is  Other links on this site provide further astronomy education.  For instance the Geophysical Institute provides an Aurora Alert mailing list and forums. It is designed to alert people living in southern Canada and mainland United States when solar conditions are such that an aurora may be viewable in their area. Sign up for the Aurora Alert mailing list at and visit the Aurora Alerts Forums to discuss the aurora with other interested people. 

This site provides a list of other websites for even more astronomy education. 

The Anthony A. Andrew School Planetarium is located in St. Michael, AK 99659, 907 923-3041

Dimond High School Planetarium located in Anchorage at 2909 W. 88th Avenue, 99502, 907 234-1141 

Locally we have Fiske Planetarium in Boulder showing Mars Revealed, 12/2/05, and Gates Planetarium more on Mars called Space Odyssey. The online exhibit may be found by clicking here: .

There are 498 Planetariums in the United States. 

Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium, Astronomy and Astrophysics Survey Committee, Board on Physics and Astronomy, Space Studies Board, National Research Council, 2001, Pages 138, 139.