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Sky Secrets: UMD's New Geodome
The geodome
The students from Myers-Wilkins Elementary School were the first to experience UMD's new portable planetarium.

Luke McCutcheon and Allie Mike talk to children
Two elementary school girls talk to UMD students Luke McCutcheon and Allie Mike about what they saw inside the GeoDome.
Students look up at the GeoDome
Inside the dome, Myers-Wilkins Elementary School third graders watch the sky show.

At the GeoDome debut, moons, stars, and planets swirled over heads in the darkness. Mars appeared and then Jupiter’s moon, with its pizza-like surface. Children exclaimed in wonder and called out answers with infectious enthusiasm.

Luke McCutcheon, a double major in chemistry and biochemistry as well as astronomy, said “The GeoDome is great. You can see how it engages kids and teaches them the excitement of science.” Allie Mike, an art major who helps the planetarium with publicity, agreed, "The GeoDome helps us see the stars; and shows us what the Earth looks like from space. It's so interactive; kids love it."

On Sept. 30, 2015 the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) Marshall Alworth Planetarium launched the Charles L. Matsch GeoDome at two Duluth sites. The first stop was Myers-Wilkins Elementary School where third- and fourth-graders experienced the stars and planets up close in the 13-foot high portable dome. Later, the dome sprung up at Clyde Iron Works where community members, faculty, alumni and students encountered the dome’s real-sky technology.

College students play a huge part in the planetarium's success. With four or more planetarium shows each week, students have the opportunity to teach sky lessons to people of all ages. Luke and Allie give planetarium presentations every week. "If more kids get interested in space earlier, they can set themselves up for success and help us learn more about our universe." Luke said.

"Encouraging girls to be interested and stay interested in science is so important," said Allie. Luke and Allie said the skills they learned while working in the planetarium helped prepare them for the career world. "Without these three years at the planetarium, I wouldn't have the people skills, public speaking experience, or the knowledge I have now," said Allie.

Jim Rock, planetarium program director, combines astronomy and culture when he gives presentations. At the two GeoDome launch events, Jim used examples from Ojibwe and Dakota culture to demonstrate how people through time have interacted with the night sky. Holding a Lakota star quilt, he pointed to the eight points of the star and told about the Morning Star’s eight-year cycle. He used a turtle shell to count out the months of the year, and to show how North American got its name, Turtle Island.

Before coming to UMD Rock spent six years presenting similar programs with NASA (Beautiful Earth), NOAA (WorldViews Network) and the Minnesota Planetarium Society.

Rock was recruited in summer 2015. Marc Seigar, who has an extensive background in astronomy and astrophysics, joined UMD as head of the Physics and Astronomy Department in 2014. Josh Hamilton, the dean of the Swenson College of Science and Engineering, sees a bright future for the new team. “The addition of the GeoDome makes a traveling universe a reality,” he said. "It's a real asset for northern Minnesota, where a traveling planetarium was often a cost-prohibitive endeavor."

The UMD GeoDome dome is affordable and available to travel to community groups and schools from Kindergarten to college. It’s easy to move. The dome can be deflated and along with the equipment, put into suitcases and loaded into a van.

The UMD planetarium offers one show on Wednesdays, one on Fridays, and two on Saturdays. For information about the Marshall Alworth Planetarium and the Charles L. Matsch GeoDome, contact 218-726-7129 at or For GeoDome inquiries and scheduling use


Jim Rock shares a story about the Morning Star Children raise their hands to answer a question
Jim Rock shares how the Lakota people used the stars to navigate through time and place. These kids know the answers.
Two students emerge from the dome. An astronomy lesson at Clyde Iron Works. GeoDome
The GeoDome gets two thumbs up at Myers-Wilkins Elementary School. At Clyde Iron Works, an astronomy lesson preceded the GeoDome tour.


Story and photos by Hanna Broadbent, October 2015.

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