A blizzard didn’t prevent a celebration of women’s accomplishments in space at Rowan’s planetarium over spring break, led by one female astronomer.
As part of Women’s History Month, Denise Vacca shared her experiences as an astronomy educator in the Edelman Planetarium last Wednesday. There was a blizzard the day before the presentation, and despite the 20 degree weather, Vacca’s family and a group of students drove on the plowed roads to see Vacca’s presentation.
In her presentation called “One Woman’s Universe,” Vacca mentioned notable women of astronomy from the past and present: Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman astronaut in space who orbited Earth 48 times; Sally Ride, the first American woman astronaut who launched into space; Mae Jemison, the first black woman astronaut to travel in space; Eileen Collins, the first woman shuttle pilot and shuttle commander; and Nicole Aunapu Mann, Anne McClain, Jessica Meir and Christina Hammock Koch, four women astronauts who hope to go to Mars.
After mentioning women who inspired her, Vacca talked about her work. She worked at The Franklin Institute’s Fels Planetarium as a producer in 1999. Then in 2004, she left the Fels Planetarium, took out a loan and started her own planetarium company known as Stars on the Move. Unlike the Edelman Planetarium, Vacca’s planetarium is portable – and inflatable.
“I LOVE INSPIRING YOUNG GIRLS INTO SCIENCE, AND I ALWAYS TELL THEM NO GIRL HAS WALKED ON THE MOON…MAYBE ONE OF YOU WILL BE THE FIRST GIRL TO WALK ON MARS.” – DENISE VACCA
“My planetarium has been called many things: Jiffy pop, baked potato, Patrick’s house, turtle, igloo, all kinds of things,” Vacca said.
According to Vacca, she has done over 5,000 shows and entertained about 120,000 students. Besides shows, she also works with the Philadelphia Science Festival, which will be held from April 21-29. She is also a member of the Rittenhouse Astronomical Society, the oldest astronomy society in the country.
“My favorite people to work with are the Girls Scouts,” Vacca said. “I love inspiring young girls into science, and I always tell them no girl has walked on the moon so let’s go out there and maybe one of you will be the first girl to walk on Mars. It gets them excited and that’s my job.”
For the second half of her presentation, the audience looked up at the sky as Vacca pointed out notable female planets and constellations. First, Venus was observed in the west. The planet is named after the Roman goddess of love and beauty, and she is the hottest planet in the solar system with an average temperature of 864 degrees Fahrenheit. Another female in the sky is the constellation of Virgo, which is also a zodiac sign.
Brianna Jarzyna, a junior graphic design major, attended the event for a sociology project.
“This is my second time in the planetarium and I always have a good time,” she said.
The Edelman Planetarium will host a family show on April 2 at 2 p.m. and tickets are $2. There will also be a free open house night on April 3 at 7 p.m.
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