Don’t Miss the Sunday Science Lectures: Fun and Fascinating!

We need to spread the word!  Too few kids and adults from across the region have enjoyed an excellent, but little known, monthly event in Arlington.  Since February 2011, Friends of Arlington’s David M. Brown Planetarium has presented Sunday Science lectures, covering a wide range of science topics.  With informative and stunning graphics, the topics covered are current and of widespread interest.  They are presented by local scientists affiliated with the U.S. Naval Observatory, NASA, the Smithsonian Institution, George Mason University, and other organizations.  Members of the audience interact with the speakers during a follow-up questions and answer session.  I have attended most of these events and have been more than impressed!

Arlington planetarium, site of Sunday Science lectures, closed for renovations until September 2012.

Until November 2011, the Sunday lectures took place in Arlington’s David M. Brown Planetarium.  After the renovations, currently in progress, these events will be held there again.  One of the temporary interim sites is Walter Reed Recreation Center in Arlington.  Supporters can keep current on upcoming lectures and other Friends’ events at and by signing up to be added to the Friends’ email list at

Here is a listing of the lectures, from the beginning, to give an idea of the broad scope of topics (mostly astronomy-oriented) and of the range of excellent presenters.  I am checking into some of the segments that may have been videotaped for future posting.  The links provide additional information.

February 27, 2011—“Are We Alone? The Search for Life Beyond Earth,” Alice Monet, retired veteran astronomer from the U.S. Naval Observatory,  and president of Friends of the Planetarium, discussed how scientists search for life beyond our Earth.

March 27, 2011—“Does Anyone Know What Day It Is?” Jennifer Bartlett, astronomer at the U.S. Naval Observatory, discussed calendar systems used over the millennia for astronomical observations.

May 1, 2011—“Around the World in 90 Minutes or Less.” William Readdy, former NASA astronaut, took us on a virtual space shuttle trip around the Earth.




Astronomy in the Antarctic

June 5, 2011—“Astronomy on Ice,” Dr. Roopesh Ojha, U.S. Naval Observatory, shared his adventures and work in an astronomical observatory at the South Pole.




Launch of space shuttle

July 17, 2011—“Beyond Atlantis—Where Does Space Exploration Go from Here?”  Heather Goss (Managing and Arts Editor at, correspondent at Aviation Week, avid astronomy enthusiast, and space editor) discussed the final space shuttle launch and current big projects in space exploration—adventures that will carry the American space program forward.




Region near epicenter of 2010 Virginia earthquake

September 18, 2011—“A Whole Lotta Shaking Going on!” Jonathan Harmon, Director of Arlington’s Planetarium, and Alice Monet presented information on earthquakes, focusing on the August 23rd 5.8 magnitude earthquake whose epicenter was in Mineral Virginia.  Jonathan had visited the site and shared his photos.

October 2, 2011—“But Why Don’t You Just Google It? Or What Scientists Really Do.”  Dr. Geneviève de Messières, astronomy educator at Smithsonian Institution, talked about the pathways for becoming an astronomer or other type of scientist and how scientists contribute to much of the information we take for granted because it’s readily accessible on the internet.

November 6, 2011—“Citizen Astronomers.” Amy Fredericks, astronomer at the U.S. Naval Observatory, discussed how amateur astronomers can contribute to the field of astronomy.

January 22, 2012—“Pixels on the Patio; Digital Astro-Imaging from Your Back Yard.” Geoff Chester, of the U.S. Naval Observatory and a member of NOVAC, shared how he uses simple digital devices to record astronomical objects with great results.

Alice Monet speaks before The City Dark screening.

February 25, 2012The City Dark, award-winning documentary by Ian Cheney about light pollution and our disappearing night sky.  This special event (the Northern Virginia Premiere Screening) was held on a Saturday in place of a Sunday Science program.  See the previous blog entry for more information. Nearly 200 people attended the event, which raised funds for Friends of the Planetarium and awareness of this topic—of interest to many communities.


The Next Lecture:

Artist’s conception of the Milky Way Galaxy

March 18, 2012—“Cosmic Collisions.”  Dr. Jessica Rosenberg, astronomy professor at George Mason University, will tell us what happens when galaxies, each with their multi-billions of stars, cross paths.  Most of us are familiar with the name of our spiral galaxy, the Milky Way, but most people don’t realize how HUGE it is.  And that there are hundreds of billions of other galaxies, many of which may collide with a neighboring galaxy at some point.  Definitely a mind blowing topic.

Find out about Cosmic Collisions on March 18th at

  • Walter Reed Recreation Center, 2909 S. 16th St., Arlington, VA 22204
  • 4:30 p.m.
  • Recommended for ages 9 and up.
  • This program is free to the public, but donations are welcome.

Donations, which support public planetarium programming, can be sent to Friends of the Planetarium, PO Box 7029, Arlington, VA 22207.

Providing a range of astronomy-related programs of interest to the general public is one of the mandates of the Friends of the Planetarium.  These one-hour events contribute to that goal.  The lectures have been incredible and are not to be missed.  Help us spread the word and join the Friends of the Planetarium for some remarkable Sunday afternoons.  And if you, or someone you know, has a science-oriented presentation to share that is suitable for ages nine and up, let us know.

–posted by Pam Juhl

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 Add a comment: What topics would you like Friends of the Planetarium to include in the Sunday Science lectures?  If you have attended one of the lectures, please share your comments.

Coming Next:

The City Dark–More Than a Fundraiser

The Film

The City Dark is much more than a February 25th fundraiser for Arlington’s David M. Brown Planetarium. This award-winning, feature documentary is important for the messages it contains for each of us. The film is inspiring –as is the filmmaker’s lifelong interest in astronomy that led him to making this film. Our quest to share the film with our community provided an opportunity for four local organizations with a common interest to work together to co-host the event. And we expect the film will lead to discussions in our community about light pollution and, possibly, improvements in our local lighting ordinances.

Filmmaker Ian Cheney

With beautiful photography and informative dialog, filmmaker Ian Cheney shows us how the disappearing night sky affects our lives, our ecosystems, and our societies. The City Dark provides an opportunity for us to reflect on the wonders of a dark night sky and our place in the universe. It is the story of light pollution and the disappearing stars.

In our search for night on a planet that never sleeps, we are taken to the “planetarium-like” skies of Arizona and Hawaii and the light-polluted skies of our cities. We watch sea turtles, birds and fireflies disoriented by light pollution. We learn about the perception of feeling safer with more lighting. The film shows how bright, persistent light may be a link to cancer. Ian interviews many scientists, astronomers, historians, philosophers, and designers to share different perspectives about our night sky. Two of my favorites are Neil deGrasse Tyson (astrophysicist and Director of NYC’s Hayden Planetarium) and Ann Druyan (co-writer of Cosmos with Carl Sagan).

Check out the trailer for a sneak peek:


Victor Slabinski, Ian Cheney, Michael Chesnes, and Dan Costanzo after the DC screening of The City Dark

The Filmmaker

I first saw this engaging documentary on August 25 at the E Street Theatre during its Washington, DC Premiere Screening. There were several hundred viewers that night, including Friends’ supporters Michael Chesnes, Ann Coll, and Dan Costanzo, Kate Hughes, Katie Moore, and Victor Slabinski. In July Ian had notified Friends of the Planetarium about the DC screening. He has been a supporter of the save-the-planetarium effort since hearing about it from his friend Amanda, who lived in DC at that time. She had attended an event at the planetarium and became concerned about its possible closure. Following the film, Ian answered audience questions and then we had a chance to meet him. The NCA members among us had their photo taken with him for their newsletter.

Ian Chaney has been an amateur astronomer since he was a child in Maine. He saw new modern shapes in the sky’s array of stars in the dark New England night sky and identified some alternate constellations. As a teen he built a six-inch telescope and began photographing the stars. After receiving his masters’ degree, Ian moved from an area of dark, starry skies to Brooklyn’s bright, electric lights. Ian felt he had lost something. With more than one-half of the planet’s population now living in cities, he wondered what impact this disconnect with the night sky has had. He explores this issue in his film.

International Dark-Sky Association

The Event

On February 25th—just six months after the screening we saw in Washington, DC—Friends of the Planetarium will present The City Dark in Arlington with three co-hosts: Northern Virginia Astronomy Club (NOVAC)—; National Capital Astronomers (NCA)—; and International Dark Sky Association (IDA)— It has been a pleasure working on this event with these three committed groups. From the beginning they have been supportive of the efforts to save the planetarium—and we are most grateful.  Miriam Gennari, who is committed to science education, environmental issues and sustainability in our community, will serve as emcee.

Plan to join us at 6:30 p.m. on February 25 at the Arlington Campus of George Mason University (3351 Fairfax Dr., Arlington, VA) in Founders Hall auditorium. Following the 58-minute film, there will be a discussion/Q & A session for about 30 minutes with local experts on astronomy and light pollution:

  • Bill Burton, NOVAC representative
  •  Bob Parks, Executive Director, International Dark-Sky Association
  • Wayne Wentz, Transportation Engineering and Operations Chief, Arlington County     
  • Dr. Harold Williams, Planetarium Director Montgomery College at the Takoma Park/Silver Spring Campus, NCA Representative

National Capital Astronomers






Weather permitting, members of NOVAC and NCA will have telescopes available to view a piece of Arlington’s nighttime sky following the program.

For any of you who miss the February showing of The City Dark, look for a reprisal or two on the new dome when Arlington’s David M. Brown Planetarium reopens in September following the renovations.

For more information about this event and for future viewings of The City Dark by Friends of the Planetarium, visit

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Addendum—Ian Cheney’s KING CORN

Ian Cheney also co-created and starred in the Peabody Award-winning theatrical hit and PBS documentary King Corn (2007). It’s available on DVD and well worth 88 minutes of your time. The film is about two friends, one acre of corn, and the subsidized crop that drives our fast-food nation. In King Corn, Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, best friends from college on the east coast, move to the heartland to learn where their food comes from. With the help of friendly neighbors, genetically modified seeds, and powerful herbicides, they plant and grow a bumper crop of America’s most-productive, most-subsidized grain on one acre of Iowa soil. But when they try to follow their pile of corn into the food system, what they find raises troubling questions about how we eat-and how we farm.” (King Corn summary) My in-laws’ families farmed land in Iowa and this film struck a chord.


–posted by Pam Juhl

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Add a Comment: Share your reactions to The City Dark event or thoughts about other issues such as light pollution within our community.

Coming Next:   Don’t Miss the Sunday Science Lectures–Fun and Fascinating!

We Did It! It’s Time to Celebrate!

We Did It!  Three small words.  They make it sound so easy.  But it was no simple matter to save the planetarium.  It took LOTS of determination, passion, persistence, and patience.  Our supporters suggested more strategies than we could manage.  There were plenty of disagreements along the way, which one way or another got resolved—and plenty of collaboration and compromise, too.  The result was SUCCESS!


Here are a few of the (to me, “phenomenal”) details:

  •     $402,800 raised in just 13 months (the goal given to us by the school superintendent)!
  •     our first venture: 930 signatures on our on-line petition in less than seven weeks
  •     more than 4,000 Facebook fans and growing
  •     3,526 donations made during the campaign period
  •     widespread media and Internet reporting and communication
  •     incredible support from so many groups, clubs, businesses, corporations, organizations, and individuals!
  •     26 musical groups supported the effort with 14 concerts!
  •     multiple other fundraising events, including presentations by two former NASA astronauts and a Congressman

Saving the planetarium really was a community (“village”) effort.  The 1%ers and the 99%ers all helped out—across all of the demographic categories.  After all, this facility serves everyone.  It definitely would have been more of a miracle if we weren’t living in the Internet age though. The Internet helped spread the word in ways unimaginable just a few decades ago when the planetarium was built.

Our first donation arrived on May 26, 2010. An interesting side note is that this first donation was from the daughter of the Phoebe Knipling, the Arlington Science Coordinator who, after years of trying, finally convinced the School Board to build a planetarium in the 1960s.  June 30, 2011, was the deadline we were given by the superintendent to raise an “impossible” amount of money to save the planetarium.  His staff were telling people who called inquiring about the Friends’ progress that we still had quite a way to go to achieve our goal and would be fundraising throughout the summer of 2011.  But we met the deadline.  The superintendent’s staff didn’t know the determination of the Friends’ Board of Directors (especially our president, Alice Monet) to meet the deadline.  And they didn’t know how overwhelmingly the public was responding to, what was for many, a crisis in our community.

Due to vacation and work schedules, the stars were finally aligned for our victory party on September 22.  There were plenty of smiles and lots of gratitude and astral-related and congratulatory chatter as dozens of supporters gathered at the home of Friends’ Board member John Bartlett for our first celebration.  It was an emotional high for all of us.  Then, six weeks later, it was time to celebrate again—when the Friends’ funds were publicly transferred to Arlington Public Schools so the renovation process could begin.  More than 65 supporters attended the November 3 celebration hosted by the Arlington County School Board before its regular Thursday night meeting.

Seventeen months of a truly community effort to save the planetarium and “WE DID IT!”  Alice Monet ended her November 3 upbeat speech to the School Board with those three words to multiple cheers. The speech took longer than expected because there were many people to thank.  Abby Raphael (School Board Chair) and Patrick Murphy (Superintendent) also shared words of thanks, and Congressman Jim Moran, who attended the meeting to show his support, also addressed the crowded room.

Friends present check to Arlington School Board.

Then it was photo op time.  The Friends’ Board posed presenting the enlarged photo-op check to the five School Board members and the superintendent. They were finally all on board—at long last!  Only one board member was a strong supporter from the very beginning, but as board member Emma Violand-Sanchez had told us, it takes at least three votes to take action.   But due to the strong support and pressure from the Green Party during a school board election campaign (thanks to Miriam Gennari and others) and with continuing strong public support, it ultimately became clear that the planetarium would survive and victory was in sight.

Later than night, one of our community business partners (Cassatt’s, A Kiwi Café) in the Lee Heights Shopping Center, closed its restaurant early to host an “after-the-school-board-meeting” party for Friends’ supporters.  There was a lot of reminiscing and excitement at the gathering.  Together we had accomplished what most people thought was not possible.  Phase 1 is complete—the planetarium is saved and the renovations are underway.  Now, what happens next?  That will be Phase 2….

–posted by Pam Juhl

Add a Comment: on this blog entry or share a story of  a victory that you experienced.

Coming Next: The City Dark–More Than A Fundraiser


The Amazing Musicians!

MIRIAM:  Our first connection with the music world as we pursued saving the planetarium was with Miriam Miller, the President of the Opera Guild of Northern Virginia (  She and her husband Don had signed our successful on-line petitiMiriam Miller, President of the Opera Guild of Northern Virgiiniaon on April 30, 2010, just a few days before it was submitted, stating that they “fully support keeping the David Brown Planetarium open at FULL capacity.” They wanted to help and suggested having a local orchestra perform “The Planets” to benefit the planetarium.  This inspired us to put music on our agenda.   At that time, the Millers were in the process of doing a musical fund-raiser for the Haitian children following the Haiti earthquake devastation.

Although the scheduling needs of the groups proved to be incompatible at that time, Miriam assisted us in other ways.  She helped organize our October concert at W-L High School, recruited volunteers, introduced us to people who proved to be very helpful, provided ongoing suggestions, and made a donation to the cause.  We will be forever grateful.

EUAN:  In the summer of 2010, Euan Morton ( was getting rave reviews for his role in Chess, currently running at the Signature Theater in the Shirlington section of Arlington.  Euan is a dynamic performer who combines song and dialogue.  Originally from Scotland, he has performed on Broadway and at the Kennedy Center. He brought his family to our first Night at the Planetarium event in July.  Euan is a BIG supporter of the Planetarium and offered his talents to help us raise needed funds.  He was scheduled to be our star performer at our October benefit concert at the W-L High School auditorium.

We had to find a Plan B when the production of Chess got extended due to its great success and Euan became otherwise occupied.  Another disappointment—for us, not for Euan!  How awesome if a Broadway star could have performed at our local high school!  But Euan did inspire the cast and crew at the Signature Theater to donate to the planetarium effort and we soon received a nice donation.

TED:  Another musician (Arlington’s T. A. Zook) volunteered his services in late May and ended up organizing and coordinating most of the fund-raising musical events that supported the planetarium.  Ted’s two children, now fully grown, benefited from their field trips to the Planetarium, which Ted says “has the unique ability to display the wonder of the cosmos in an immersive manner simply impossible to duplicate in the classroom.”

Ted Zook inspired dozens of local musicians to help save the planetarium.

He told us that “after learning about the generous offer of the Opera Guild to do a benefit concert on the Planetarium’s behalf, it occurred to me that this would be an opportunity to offer performances by experimental music projects that I am involved in, under the auspices of the Sonic Circuits Festival of Experimental Music ( . . [This group provides] the DC-area music and art communities with the opportunity to sample experimental and avant-garde electronic music, with an emphasis on improvisation and artistic use of new technologies.”  Ted performs as a basscello soloist (, and with other musicians including in the “Lost Civilizations experimental music project,” which he co-founded with Mike Sebastian ( listen to an excerpt).  The music is “unscored, unrehearsed and extemporaneously improvised on the spot.”

Ted has many other talents and connections–he knows a lot of local musicians and supports the music community, is a fantastic and tireless event coordinator and communicator, and is very friendly, diplomatic and persistent.  These traits were all put to good use in the next 12 months in his mission to help preserve “this crown jewel of Arlington County’s phenomenal public school system.”  As Ted has said: “The willingness of the DC-area musician community to step forward and volunteer their time and talent has been nothing short of amazing!”  All in all, there were 13 concerts and 26 groups that performed between September 2010 and June 2011.  A number of other groups volunteered, but due to scheduling conflicts are still awaiting an opportunity to help.


Galaxy Hut hosted first musical fundraiser.

The second benefit concert was held in D.C. at Potter's House.


Musicians performed at Iota Club and Cafe on two occasions to help save the planetarium.

In September 2010 Arlington’s Galaxy Hut sponsored our first benefit concert, followed soon after by a musical fundraiser at Potter’s House in the Adams Morgan section of Washington, D. C.  Ted kept contacting musicians about this worthy cause and the word spread.  And the response was incredible.  In October there was a popular fundraiser at the State Theatre in Falls Church. I sold t-shirts and bumper stickers at that event and spoke with people about the importance of the planetarium.  As a bonus, I got to hear the cool sounds of the performers: Bellman Barker, Cobra Collective, Sansyou, and Screen Vinyl Image!  Other venues included Arlington’s Iota (twice!), Washington-Lee High School auditorium (where the Children’s Spanish Chorus of Arlington performed twice!), and maybe the most popular of all was the planetarium itself.  With Planetarium Director Jonathan Harmon creating a starry sky and other visuals on the dome and with a variety of committed and talented musicians that Ted had reached out to, these events were awesome!

LOOK AT THIS IMPRESSIVE LIST.  THESE PERFORMERS HELPED US SAVE THE PLANETARIUM.  Thank you all! You are fantastic—and much appreciated!!

Bellman Barker (

Bluebrain (;

Children’s Spanish Chorus of Arlington

Cigarette (

Cobra Collective (

Demivolt (

Flo Anito ( )

Frau Eva (

Grumpy Swamp (

HB Woodlawn Teachers Group

Janel and Anthony (

J.P. Reali (

Koshari (

Loop 234 (

Lost Civilizations experimental music project –Ted’s group (

Manhattan Murder Mystery (

Robinson Lee Earle (

Sansyou (;

Screen Vinyl Image (

The Arlingtones Quartet, For Heaven Sake (

The Chance (

The Dreamscape Project (

The Last Monarchs (

The Mantis (

The Twenty-first Century Chamber Ensemble – Ted’s other group (

Yorktown Yahoos


The Children's Chorus of Arlington performed twice to support the planetarium.



America Hearts (

Gist (

Left on Vermont (

The Andalusians (

The Aquarium (

The NRIs (

The Torches (

Yoko K. (


Arlington’s David M. Brown Planetarium, November 12, 13, 14, 2010, and June 18, 2011 ( — six concerts

Galaxy Hut, Arlington, September 12, 2010 ( one concert

IOTA Club and Café, Arlington, December 7 and 26, 2010 ( two concerts

Marvelous Market, Arlington, May 14, 2011 ( one concert

Potter’s House, Washington, D.C., September 17, 2010 ( one concert

The State Theatre, Falls Church, October 4, 2010 ( one concert

Washington-Lee High School Auditorium, Arlington, October 16, 2010, and June 15, 2011—two concerts

 –posted by Pam Juhl

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Add a comment: Who are your favorite local musicians?  Have you seen/heard performances by the above musicians?  Can you think of other groups besides musicians who could help a cause like the planetarium?  How could they help?

Coming Next:  We Did It!  It’s Time to Celebrate!

The Kids Help Out!

Families often attend the weekend sessions at the Planetarium together because their children are so excited about the experiences they’ve had there with their classes.  The Planetarium is a place where people of all ages learn and are inspired—a perfect combination.  The loudest and the largest voice [against closing the planetarium] is coming from the children themselves–in their schools and in their homes.  Many children are heartbroken that their Planetarium may close.  But our children often cannot speak for themselves in forums like this.  Our community leaders are entrusted with making decisions on their behalf; decisions that will serve them best.”  (4/22/10)

 The above paragraph is from my speech to the Arlington County School Board, a plea to keep the planetarium open. The community leaders (school board members) did not come through for the kids until the Friends of the Planetarium raised the $402,800 required by the school board, more than a year later.  I wasn’t surprised by the students’ astonishment that the planetarium might be closed—and their grief.  My own kids, now adults, shared the emotions and joined the effort to keep this 40+-year-old institution in our community.  A lot of adults spoke out, but I was most delighted and impressed that many students jumped in to help.  I began collecting the anecdotal information about their help that came to our email address and to our Facebook page and their donations that were sent to our post office box or turned in at our events.  It inspired me and many others to make sure that we didn’t fail.

First student donors:  Marco was our first “student supporter.” A recent graduate of Ashlawn Elementary School, he earned $40 by pet sitting.  His Dad, Richard Viola, feels that the planetarium is a “great local resource” and was impressed that his son always had “a lot of great information to share” after his many visits to the planetarium. Dad matched his son’s earnings and we received $80 on July 29, 2010.

Soon after, a $5.00 bill arrived with a heartfelt note from Taylor Elementary student Shaina Brown: “I have been to the planetarium many times and feel it is something that we should treasure.  I have enjoyed it and learned from it.  Here is $5 to help you.  From Shaina B.  Age 10 J   Say Hi to Mr. Spitz for me.”

Ian's lemonade stand

Lemonade:  There were three lemonade and cookie stands that we are aware of that resulted in $371.  These were organized by neighborhood kids from Glebe, McKinley, and Claremont Elementary Schools.  Ian Newton did it to save his favorite place in Arlington.  And there were others. Thanks, Ruben Stann, Daniel Skoloda, and those whose names, but not our gratitude, remain unknown to us.  This assistance reminds me of the old adage: when you receive a lemon, make lemonade (the proposed planetarium closing being the lemon).

Birthday parties and other gifts: Imagine six-year-old boys inviting classmates to their birthday parties and asking for donations to the planetarium instead of gifts.  That’s what Marco (McKinley School) and Ian McMahon (Barcroft School) did—raising $405. They both love the planetarium and were very happy to help.

The Newell family children, Sam and Rose, twice donated their “tzedaka” (yearly loose change) to save the planetarium.  They attended a number of our special events to show their concern for and support of the planetarium.

Support from pre-schools through high schools:  Kids from public and private Arlington schools wanted to help.  The first was the Purim Preschool Class from Etz Hayim Congregation.  Their check and good wishes arrived on August 2, 2010.  The following year’s Purim Class kept up the tradition and we received nearly $600 from those classes.  Another preschool donor was Resurrection Lutheran Church Weekday Preschool, sending in an amazing $1,500.  Kids and their teachers and parents from these preschools had attended programs at the planetarium and knew how valuable it was.

Many Arlington school PTAs helped by spreading the word about the planetarium’s plight.  A few schools stand out:  Barcroft may have had the most involvement of kids thanks to the vision of PTA president Susan DuBois who gave a moving speech at a March 2010 school board meeting.  The Barcroft kids wrote letters to the school board, made an enormous “Save the Planetarium” banner that we held up at school board meetings, helped distribute fliers, helped with a petition, and donated their spare change.  Result:  more than $400 from Barcroft.  The kids at McKinley School, where David M. Brown received his early education, also collected their loose change and made posters.  The Marston family got the whole McKinley community involved.  Nearly $550 was raised, which they used to dedicate a new seat in the renovated planetarium:  “For Alum David Brown, McKinley Elem Kids”.

Kids from many schools helped to save the planetarium.

Other schools also dedicated seats thru their PTAs, starting with Kenmore Middle School and followed by three Elementary Schools: Glebe, Ashlawn, and Hoffman-Boston.  Three of these schools also invited Friends of the Planetarium to attend school fairs and other events where we interacted with the students, provided information and distributed fliers.

High school students also showed commitment.  Their most effective assistance may have been by notifying others through their extensive social media networks.  A number of students from the Langston Continuation Program helped early on by signing our on-line petition and posting information on their Facebook pages. The Washington-Lee High School Astronomy Club provided volunteers at many of our early events and did a super job.  Thanks to president Claudelle Calfat and the many others who helped.  Another W-L student, Sylvia Monet, daughter of Friends’ president Alice Monet, frequently participated when she wasn’t busy with school band events.  The H-B Woodlawn Astronomy Club had hands-on involvement by selling t-shirts and holding a bake sale, capably organized by co-presidents Molly and Libby.  Recently, Emily Mitchell, president of the National Honor Society at Yorktown High School (from which David Brown graduated) has been recruiting volunteers to help at our events.  Seven YHS volunteers showed up for a recent Night at the Planetarium event and did an awesome job.

One student, diverse help:  One more addition to this list stands out: Ben Gessel.  He is now an 8th grader at HB Woodlawn.  He helped by raising money and awareness.  He held two bake sales at his school (for which he contributed the items to be sold).  He also encouraged family friends to donate (and they did!).  At his bar mitzvah celebration he placed containers as part of the centerpieces and asked people to contribute their loose change to help save the planetarium. And he participated in a video produced by Friends’ supporter Kathy Overton (watch her short 4 Minute Planetarium Video).

So, kids did make a difference.  And they still do.

[If there are other students not mentioned above, please leave a comment with the details and/or email me at so those stories can be added. Kathy is planning to record how the kids helped to save the planetarium in an upcoming video.  Look for it on our website.]

 –posted by Pam Juhl

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Add a comment: As a student, what community cause were you part of? What did you do? Do you know of children/students who have participated in an effort to make a difference in their community?

Coming NextThe Amazing Musicians!

Nights at the Planetarium Brought Awareness and Donations

Would you rather spend a night at a museum or a night at a planetarium?  Both have specimens or models that are very old and very big, although the planetarium would easily win in both areas (think T-rex vs. Jupiter or Diplodocus vs. supernova).  Anyway,

Friends of the Planetarium volunteer Ryan Hanna came up with the Night at the Planetarium (NATP) fundraising concept.  It has been so popular that we have had five NATP events so far with another scheduled for September 24.  We hope you will join us. You can check out the details on the website

Night at the Planetarium: Fnding Fossils

The first “Night at the Planetarium” was held on Saturday July 31, 2010.  On the afternoon of the event, I went over with my son to help out.  Approaching the planetarium I was somewhat frantic that the attendance might be sparse. As we pulled into the parking lot off N. Quincy Street, we were delighted and relieved to see dozens of people enjoying the activities that Ryan and others had set up. And inside all the shows were packed to capacity.  Sadly, some people left without seeing a show due to the long lines.  Because all five advertised planetarium shows were sold out, Planetarium Director Jonathan Harmon added a sixth show to accommodate the crowd. We collected $4,463 to help boost our early fundraising.  In all, well over 400 adults and children joined us for an afternoon and evening of fun and learning.

In addition to the indoor planetarium shows, there was a lot going on outdoors: Ideaventions and The International Dark Sky Association, APS science teacher Ron Melkis, and others provided hours of science-related hands-on activities to educate and entertain visitors.  Friends’ President Alice Monet’s “Smack a Planet” game (assembled by Alice and Board member Kate Hughes) featuring four comets and eight planets was very popular for its fun and for the prizes.  Ryan Hanna’s fold-your-own gyroscopes (and learn about the planetarium while doing so) were also popular and could be seen flying around the planetarium grounds.  We had star charts of the August sky, the upcoming dates for International Space Station viewings, and more.

Supporters entered their names and email addresses for a chance to win a prize.  It also gave them the opportunity to be on our email list to learn of future events and the progress of the Friends of the Planetarium.  Two Arlington businesses, Casual Adventure and Rocklands, provided the gift certificates.

Finding Sunspots at the Planetarium

Although the weather was mild and very pleasant, the skies did not cooperate the way we would have liked for telescope viewing during part of the evening.  (Of course, a bonus of having a planetarium is that a planetarium always has good skies!)  Attendees did get to see evidence of sunspots as well as Venus highly magnified!  Everyone appreciated the participation of the volunteers from Northern Virginia Astronomy Club (NOVAC) and (National Capital Astronomers (NCA) for their equipment, expertise and support.

It was so great to see everyone there.  School Board member Emma Violand-Sanchez stopped by to offer her ongoing support. Jim Pebley, who was instrumental in changing the name of the planetarium in 2008, helped to finance the event.  Anita Scott attended with several of her friends.  It was her mother Phoebe Knipling who pressured the school board back in the sixties to set up a planetarium for the students and citizens of our community.  Anita is a BIG supporter—she also has done two yard sales over the past year to benefit the Planetarium and the Outdoor Lab (where she is on the board).

I had the chance to meet Euan Morton who stopped by with his family.  He is a dynamic performer who combines song and dialogue.  Originally from Scotland, he was performing at the Signature Theater in Shirlington at that time and has performed on Broadway and at the Kennedy Center.  He is another BIG supporter of the Planetarium and offered to perform as a benefit to the planetarium.  He later organized a fundraiser at the Signature Theatre among the cast and staff.

Friends’ volunteers who helped at the event were kept busy from the beginning to the end: Glenda Barrett, Michael Chesnes, Ann Coll, Jacqueline Currie, Paul Derby and other NOVAC volunteers, James Gartner, Ryan Hanna, Kate Hughes, Pam Juhl, Carolyn Lange, Alice Monet, Raphael Perrino, and, Candice Wilson.  Thank you one and all!  Sorry for any names unintentionally omitted.

More pics and video from Night at the Planetarium 1
Looking back, it almost seems like a blur — one event followed by another and then another. (See the listing [.doc] of 2010 and 2011’s fundraising events and activities).  Our board and volunteers have spent considerable time, energy and dedication on the projects/events in a collaborative spirit. And the response has been fantastic!  To gauge our fundraising progress from week to week, Raphael put together a thermometer-looking meter filling up with stars as donations came in.  These were added to our website ( and to our Facebook page.

  “Fundraising starts with “fun”—and we had lots of that along the way: getting to meet new people and enjoying the scheduled events.  “Raising” ends the word.  For us, it was not just raising money for the needed renovations, but also raising awareness that there is a planetarium in Arlington and that it is a valuable resource for our students and for our community.  Even 18 months after we began, we encounter people who are surprised that Arlington has a planetarium—despite coverage in local and national newspapers, on-line news reports, radio and TV stories and announcements, and multiple listservs.  (We do need to get an identifying sign up on the planetarium and maybe a street sign guiding people to the facility.)

–posted by Pam Juhl

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Add a comment: Share a story about your participation or attendance at one of the events to save the Arlington planetarium—or a similar venture that you were involved in…

Coming Next: The Kids Help Out!

Our Common Goal–Was It Even Possible?


It amazes me that nine strong yet diverse supporters of the Arlington planetarium found each other last spring.  Most of us didn’t know the others. What we did know was that we were somehow going to save the planetarium from being closed.

When I joined the effort in mid-March 2010, what would later be called the “save-the-planetarium” core group already had five supporters.  James Gartner, George Wysor, and the Perrino family (Ralph and Raphael) had contacted the Planetarium staff to see what could be done to keep the planetarium from being closed.  And Doug Brown, the brother of David Brown after whom the planetarium had been renamed just two years before, became centrally involved.  Soon the five of them were strategizing by email. These were people who had a long-time connection with the planetarium and knew it was not in the best interest of the community to close it. Three others (Carolyn Lange, Alice Monet and Kate Hughes) linked up with the group later in March after school board meetings.

Despite our differences, that common goal of saving the planetarium for future generations held us together and inspired us to try our best to meet the challenge given to us by the superintendent of schools and the school board:

raise $402,800 by June 30, 2011, to keep the planetarium open.

April 8, 2010, school board meeting

Most people thought it was an impossible task.  $402,800???  In 14 months??  Many thought that it should be the responsibility of the school board and/or the county board to pay for upgrades needed in the planetarium.  The great thing was that most people in the community wanted to keep the planetarium open.  They had visited as school students and now their children were regular visitors.  And overwhelmingly, the word was that they loved it and did not want to lose it.

It troubled me that the school board didn’t feel the same way.  There are five school board members and three votes were needed to reverse the proposal to close the planetarium.  In those early days we never had more than two votes.  During the March and April school board meetings, 14 supporters gave thoughtful and passionate speeches that should have convinced anyone to keep the planetarium’s doors open.  And many dozens of heartfelt letters and emails were sent to the school board and superintendent.  There had also been a successful petition drive set up online by Raphael that resulted in 930 signatures and comments in less than two months.  All of this during a time when we were just beginning to get organized.

Pam Juhl tries to sway school board.

Raphael Perrino presents petition to the school board.


The result of theses efforts was that the school board agreed to keep the planetarium open ½ time (primarily for kindergarten through second grade students and with a reduction in staffing from 2½ positions to ½ position) while they let us try our hand at fundraising.  They said funds were needed for a new projector and lighting system, a new interior dome, and new chairs.  What supporters could not understand was why the planetarium couldn’t stay open full time during our fundraising.  The current Spitz projector, although definitely aging, was working fine and the new schedule would not allow most students the opportunity to visit the planetarium during that school year.

The nine of us mentioned above began meeting in April to dicuss the superintendent’s challenge and eventually, on May 10th, our group became incorporated as Friends of Arlington’s David M. Brown Planetarium.  Despite widespread doubts about the success of this venture, many of us never accepted failure as an option.  If success was alluding us, we would just have to work harder.

–posted by Pam Juhl

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 Add a Comment: Please share your thoughts on the early struggles to save the planetarium.  Have you ever been motivated to try to accomplish something that seemed impossible to achieve? Did you ever find yourself working with others that you didn’t know to achieve a common goal?

Coming Up: ‘Night at the Planetarium’, our first big fun(d)raiser!


Who Was David Brown?

David M. Brown In 2010 the Arlington County School Board seriously considered closing its David M. Brown Planetarium as proposed by the superintendent.  This was after unanimously voting to rename it to honor a native son just two years before.  I thought: there is something very wrong with this picture…

 When I moved to Arlington in 1978, the planetarium was nine years old and was known simple as the Arlington Planetarium.  In 2007, George Wysor, and others, approached the school board about changing the planetarium’s name to honor his former classmate and childhood friend David M. Brown. David was a graduate of Arlington schools—McKinley, Swanson, and Yorktown—and a NASA astronaut.

 I never met David Brown, but he soon became my hero.  He was far more than an astronaut—although that career was very impressive in and of itself. He was also a high school athlete, college gymnast, medical doctor, Navy flight surgeon and jet pilot, and an accomplished videographer.  How could one person have done all of that in just 46 years?  I was definitely impressed!  He died in the space shuttle Columbia disaster on February 1, 2003, together with six other astronauts.  A great tragedy in many ways.

 I did meet David’s brother Douglas Brown.  When we served on the newly formed Friends of the Planetarium board together in 2010, Doug told us stories about David and shared photos David had taken on his missions.  Doug had collaborated on the renaming effort and later played a major role in the early discussions to save the planetarium with the school superintendent.  The superintendent suggested that the science wing at the newly built Yorktown High School could be named after David since the planetarium was scheduled for closure.  That was not something the planetarium supporters or the Brown family wanted to hear.

Despite success with the name change after a long campaign, today the name “David M. Brown Planetarium” appears nowhere on or near the planetarium.  That seemed to be quite an oversight!  Something the planetarium supporters talked about remedying.

 [More information about Capt. David M. Brown]

  –posted by Pam Juhl

Add a Comment: on this blog entry or share a story of one of your personal heroes. 

Coming Up: A Common Goal


The Beginning of the End?

When I heard the news in January 2010, it was like a jolt of anxiety and disbelief passed through me.  The school superintendent had proposed closing Arlington’s planetarium! Another teacher mentioned it to me as I was walking past his room one winter morning more than a year ago.  I love the planetarium.  My science students had experienced its starry dome.  My family had enjoyed numerous visits and each time learned a little more about our amazing universe.   I wanted that for future students and families.

The planetarium is part of Arlington’s uniqueness.  This couldn’t be happening.  There had been no advanced notification or opportunity for community discussion.  The news just appeared very unexpectedly in the superintendent’s proposed budget presented to the public in late February 2010.  This was not the Arlington Way.  And worse yet, I soon found out they planned to convert the space into a band room for the adjacent high school.

I contacted several other teachers and other school staff who did not want to get involved—the superintendent being their boss and all.  The planetarium staff provided me with some historical and financial information, but could not become personally involved.

I knew the planetarium had to be saved, but I didn’t know how to even get started with such a task. Then I met James Gartner—quite by accident.  It was on a Monday afternoon at the school board office. Several of us were waiting to speak with a school board member during the board’s regular open office hours.  The administrative assistant asked us what our discussion topics were.  I was there to speak against the proposed budget cuts to the high school continuation program.  James’ issue was the planetarium. I thanked him for advocating for the planetarium and told him I too was a supporter.  Then he was called into his meeting.

When he left 15 minutes later, I followed him into the hall and asked what could be done.  James is very committed to the planetarium and its future in the community.  He had already made inquiries, collected information, and planned to speak at the public hearing on the proposed budget at the upcoming school board meeting. We exchanged contact information.  After meeting James, my despair faded into a mild hope.  I thought that if enough like-minded people could find one another, our collective voices would be heard.

James and two other strong planetarium supporter, Carolyn Lange and Raphael Perrino, whom I would soon meet, gave passionate and powerful speeches to the school board on March 18th, but it was not enough to convince the school board to keep the planetarium open.  That would truly “take a village.”

–posted by Pam Juhl

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Add a comment: How did you hear that the planetarium was being slated for closure? What was your reaction? OR Did you ever encounter a possible loss of something you cared deeply about? What steps did you take?

Coming up:  Who Was David M.  Brown?