The Thomas P. Gehringer Planetarium is a unique feature of Omaha's Burke High School. We are one of the few fortunate high schools in the nation to have such a facility.
The planetarium is used as a teaching tool in our astronomy classes, for providing special programs for other science classes and enrichment opportunities for many non-science classes.
Show titles include: More Than Meets the Eye, Cosmic Chemistry, Bear Tales and Other Grizzly Stories, Tales of the Zodiac, Endless Horizons, and Cosmic Catastrophes and others.
As Part of the RBSE Program Sponsored by the NSF and The NOAO, students help astronomers discover 73 novae in Andromeda Galaxy.Images of galaxies are collected using the NSF's 0.9-meter telescope with a CCD camera on Kitt Peak. Students search images from successive epochs for novae by using a blinking process where images are rapidly alternated using a computer.
A nova is created in a binary star system, where a white dwarf has a nearby companion star. As the companion loses hydrogen gas, the gas falls onto the white dwarf, causing an instability near its surface. An explosive nuclear reaction occurs, causing the white dwarf to shine brightly as a nova.
When a nova appears, its coordinates are recorded. A light curve for each nova is then created by measuring its brightness in each epoch in which it appears. Currently, the RBSE participants are searching for novae in the Andromeda Galaxy, a nearby spiral galaxy similar in stellar content and size to our own Milky Way.
About the Planetarium
Burke's planetarium has a 24 foot diameter dome and a Spitz A3P star projector. It seats 55 people. Around the dome are a series of slide projectors and special effects projectors. The planetarium also has a laser disc player, access to NASA TV and cable TV, all of which can be displayed on the dome by a new CRT video projector and/or TV monitors in the corridor.
We also have a computer which allows us to demonstrate astronomical concepts and display the latest images from space. All of these can be displayed by the video projector.
When our planetarium was last upgraded six slide projectors were added in an arrangement called an all-sky system. This allows projectors with special wide angle lenses to combine partial images into one that fills the entire dome! They can also be used to project a panorama around part or all of the dome.
The planetarium has six other new projectors that work in two sets of three that dissolve images back and forth between sets. All the slide projectors are controlled by a new automation system that is synchronized with the sound track.