READING, Pa. - The chairs inside the Neag Planetarium are removable. It's a good thing, considering they can be spaced out a bit when the Reading Public Museum is allowed to reopen. For now though, it just makes the space seem empty.
"We haven't been running shows for over a month," said Mark Mazurkiewicz, the planetarium's director. "I miss the interaction with the children. I miss the interaction with the adults, but more than that, I miss that they aren't experiencing the planetarium for the first time. That's one of the best parts about the job."
Mazurkiewicz has been on the job on since 1992. This is the first time the planetarium has been forced to close. He was looking for a way to reach folks who can't visit, and that's where Way-Out Wednesdays come in. Every week, a new planetarium show is released on the museum's website.
The shows were reformatted to go from dome-viewing to home-viewing. This week's roll out is "Solar Superstorms." It's narrated by actor Benedict Cumberbatch. It's about the most important star in the sky, a close-up look at the sun, even showing you what we think it looks like inside.
"Now, you're not going to get the full 360-degree sensation of seeing the show inside the chamber, but it's a neat way of watching the same program on your laptop," Mazurkiewicz shared.
In a rectangle, it will look different, but Mazurkiewicz called it the best visualization of the sun of any planetarium show he's ever seen, and he hopes watching it at home will inspire you to see it at the planetarium in the future.
The planetarium has a long history that goes back to 1950s. Sometime in 1952, it was proposed that a planetarium be built inside the museum's art gallery, but there just wasn't enough space, so the idea was abandoned.
It was brought back to life in the spring of 1963, during the heart of the space race, when the Berks County Women's Club started raising funds to build one on the museum grounds.
Construction began in 1967, and the planetarium opened the next year. The original projector sat in the center. It's all digital now, after a remodel in 2006 and another upgrade in 2017.
The planetarium is now quietly waiting for the day when visitors return.