'Wonders of astronomy': York Planetarium reopening after two-year COVID closure

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch

After being shuttered for more than two years because of the pandemic, the York Learning Center Planetarium is finally reopening — and its director is over the moon.

“There's a lot of excitement, but also some dread. It's been more than two years since I last did a program," Todd Ullery said. “I'm most interested in meeting the public again and showing them the wonders of astronomy."

There are two upcoming public shows, one  Saturday, April 2, and another Saturday, April 9. Information on purchasing tickets can be found by visiting http://www.astroyork.com/.

Additionally, the planetarium is scheduling private, group sessions. Interested individuals can email info@astroyork.com for more information.

It's an exciting time to be returning to conduct astronomy shows, Ullery said.

The James Webb Space Telescope, which launched last December, and the Parker Solar Probe currently orbiting Jupiter are among the many exciting things happening in the world of space exploration.

The planetarium, which seats up to 60, at York Learning Center in York City, Saturday, March 26, 2022. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The York Learning Center Planetarium, located at 301 E. 6th Ave., is a great platform to present that news and information in a way that's easy to understand, he said.

All ticket proceeds go toward funding outreach projects for the York County Astronomical Society. 

The organization will also be hosting a public star observation session from 8 to 10 p.m. on April 9 at John C. Rudy Park, 400 Mundis Race Road. The event is free, and individuals can either bring their own telescope or use one provided by the astronomical society.

Planetarium Director Todd Ullery, of York Astronomical Society, inside the planetarium at York Learning Center in York City, Saturday, March 26, 2022. Dawn J. Sagert photo

“Everything that we do is paid for with ticket sales," Ullery said. 

One of the bigger projects the York County Astronomical Society is working on is the development of a radio telescope.

The new 15-foot dish will be fully maneuverable and have the ability to lock on to a celestial object for tracking for several hours. 

"The larger size makes it more sensitive to the weak signals from space," Ullery said in 2021. "The previous telescope would point in a specific height above the southern horizon and collect data in the few minutes it drifts through the field of view."

More:York College students building local astronomers new, larger eye on the cosmos

Radio astronomy is a subfield of astronomy that studies the radio emissions of celestial objects. Collections of the radio energy can be processed to build images — something that people couldn't see with the naked eye.

For three years, York College students with a variety of interests, such as computer science and engineering, have worked to design, construct and code the telescope.

Planetarium Director Todd Ullery, of York Astronomical Society, inside the planetarium at York Learning Center in York City, Saturday, March 26, 2022. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The estimated $60,000 to $70,000 in costs was covered  by York College.

Additional donations came from other organizations, including Becton Dickson, the Society of Amateur Radio Astronomers and the UPS Foundation. Kinsley Construction donated materials and labor for the project.

The project is expected to wrap up by the end of this summer   and will become part of the York County Astronomical Society observatory at John C. Rudy County Park.

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.