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City Spotlight: Planetarium Director at Fayetteville State University

05/02/2017 04:15PM ● Published by Jennifer Gonzalez

Dr. Jonathan Breitzer

Planetarium Director at Fayetteville State University

Sidebar: “Earth is the only planet with tuna casseroles.”

Q: Dr. Breitzer, what is a planetarium exactly?

A: The first definition of a planetarium is actually the projector. That it the planetarium. The second definition is the space, meaning the building where the planetarium is.


Q: What model of planetarium do you use?

A: This is a Spitz model 512 projector. It’s full of gears and mirrors and lights. The gears run the five visible planets, plus the moon and the sun.


Q: And it shows stars, right? How many stars does it show?

A: Right. 2,354 stars to be exact. They’re all inside the planetarium.


Q: What are your duties as the director of the planetarium?

A: I run the shows and arrange the shows. The shows are free and can be reserved online at There’s no minimum group size, either. We do shows for school, church or homeschool groups, but it’s designed to be for individuals.


Q: Do have any other jobs here at Fayetteville State University?

A: I also teach chemistry. I try to bring astronomy and chemistry together.


Q: How often do you do shows?

A: It depends. Some weeks we’ll do ten shows and some weeks none. We had 5,000 visitors last year, 1,300 in March alone. In 2012, we did 70 shows.


Q: How many seats are in the planetarium?

A: 55. But we can always add more chairs if there is a larger group.


Q: What do children find most fascinating?

A: During the show, when the sun sets, I never make it all the way dark. From a showmanship perspective, you never want to give it all away. So when I bring out the stars, everyone oohs and ahhs.  You’re really giving the kids an experience.


Q: How did you discover your love of astronomy?

A: Ever since I was five years old. My uncle took me to the Adler Planetarium in Chicago and I just fell in love. The Adler has been around since the 1930s.


Q: What is something about the universe that you find simply magnificent?

A: The thing that makes me think about how wonderful the universe is is to hear questions from children. You get some students who are just learning about astronomy and they say, “Oh, look! A planet! A star!” and then you get some who are really into astronomy and ask some deep level questions, some seriously advanced questions. I’m talking about third graders asking questions about astronomy or about life that in order to answer that question I have to draw a molecule on the chalkboard.


Q: What is a really cool fact you could share with us about the universe?

A: A photon, which is a particle of light, takes eight minutes to get from the sun to the earth. But a photon takes 1 million years to just escape the sun. It’s fascinating stuff.



Q: What was the first constellation you remember learning?

A: Probably Orion and the Big Dipper.


Q: When did you move to Fayetteville? Would you like to talk about your family?

A: We moved to Fayetteville in 2002. I’m married. My wife has her PhD in American Labor History and she teaches online. My daughter is thirteen. She loves the cello and musical theatre. We’re very active in the community. And we go to synagogue in Durham.


Q: Are there any exciting changes for the planetarium in the future?

A: The Connect NC Bond has been approved and that was a $2 billion bond. Fayetteville State University got $10 million and all of that is going to improve the Lyons Science Building. We’re hoping to do a full-dome system and go digital in the future. The renovation will begin in a few months. It’s going to include replacing the seats and an all-around renovation of the planetarium.


Q: We have to ask. What do you think about life in outer space?

A: I find it hard to believe we’re alone, just because the universe is so big. That’s one of the great big paradoxes. Is life inevitable? There’s no life on Mars. Mars is cold and the air is thin. But, we didn’t used to think there was life at the bottom of the ocean because there was no sun. Now, they discovered life under the ocean. In fact, that may be where life started.


Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

A: Every Wednesday at 11 a.m. Dr. DeValve, a criminal justice teacher, leads a meditation session in the planetarium. It’s for the community and it’s very peaceful. The planetarium, it’s a good place to meditate, relax and focus on one’s breathing.





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