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Star of Bethlehem shines at Eastern

This Christmas season it is possible to look up and view the sky as the wise men did when they heard about a baby savior in Bethlehem.

Every year since 1978, Eastern University’s planetarium has shown the Christmas show “Star of Bethlehem,” but this year it has changed as a result of new technology. Dr. David Bradstreet, professor of physical science and director of the observatory and planetarium said in an e-mail, “We can now go any time in the past or future from 100,000 BC to 100,000 AD instantly, as well as any place on Earth or even any place in the solar system.”

Bradstreet wrote the production that was shown since 1978, and he wrote the one that will debut this year. According to Bradstreet, the ability to show the astronomical phenomena has increased by a hundredfold. “The abilities of this new digital instrument are only limited by our imagination,” Bradstreet said. The new show is based on the same basic idea to show the extent of the astronomical phenomena that the star was, but is digitally refined.

The technology accompanies some new theories about the star that are addressed in this year’s show. It has two characters, an astronomer and his young daughter, who engage in dialogue about Christmas traditions, including the star of Bethlehem. The audience will explore, with the characters, the same nighttime sky that the wise men saw. The astronomer is played by Bradstreet and the daughter by Carina Fichera, who is the daughter of Dr. Maria Fichera of the biology department at Eastern.

According to Steve Sanders, observatory coordinator, Fichera and Bradstreet recorded the script, which he then mixed with background music that compliments the visuals of the show. “Dr. Bradstreet researched and wrote the script while gathering the tools needed to make the show,” Sanders said. “Then he let me take all of those parts and produce something out of them. I started putting the pieces together about six months ago.”

“That planetarium had an optomechanical projector (stars from holes punched in a ball) projected via gear-driven mini-projectors,” Bradstreet said. “Additional visual effects had to be either constructed by hand from scraps or using the eight Carousel slide projectors located around the periphery of the dome.”

“The story we tell in our show is packed with all kinds of educational information,” Sanders said. “The real beauty is that it will bring people together to share in something greater than ourselves.”

The “Star of Bethlehem” show dates are Nov. 30, Dec. 7, 8, 14 and 15 and they will be shown twice each date at 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. Tickets are $5 and need to be reserved by calling 610-341-1390 or e-mailing planet@eastern.edu. Money collected from tickets will go into the planetarium fund to save money for more shows, which usually cost around $5,000 to $9,000. For more information on the show, visit eastern.edu/planetarium.

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