Space exploration in Pittsylvania County Schools in southside Virginia began long before Neil Armstrong took his first step on the moon. For decades, the Pittsylvania Planetarium brought science to life for our students and to this region in a way that no other entity has duplicated. Eventually, the Planetarium became a casualty of the times due to aging equipment and budget reductions.
In 1966, the Pittsylvania Planetarium was state-of-the-art with its theatre seating and large dome. It was a time when the Internet was unknown and computers filled rooms instead of pockets.
The Planetarium had a public outreach where sessions under the night sky provided an opportunity for students and the public to experience first hand the night sky with the aid of a wide variety of telescopes. While it did not have an observatory it used portable equipment to bring the wonders of the sky to the community.
Today’s observatories are technical marvels that require network access and dark skies: Two assets which are unique to Pittsylvania County Schools. It is this synergy of computer technology, remotely controlled robotic facilities and access to a high bandwidth network that make the modern observatory a unique facility. This new facility is the Southern Virginia DarkSky/Solar Observatory.(SVDSO) Commonly referred to as a robotic observatory, this fully remotely-controlledmobile facility brings the sky to the classroom. Students can take a field trip without leaving the classroom or their school parking lot. They can capture a digital image of a galaxy 2.5 million light years away and then use it in a classroom science project or watch the progression of Solar activity.
Headlines herald mountain top settings and Earth orbiting telescopes, but the experience is not limited to the larger scale. Pittsylvania County has a distinction its urban neighbors envy. It has the required dark sky region coupled with the connectivity provided by Pittsylvania County School’s extensive broadband microwave network This model robotic telescope facility for science education follows the tradition of the Pittsylvania Planetarium. Returning Pittsylvania County to its roots as a focal point of Astronomy education. Along with the Danville Science Center facilities is not only a giant step for our students, but a giant leap for our region.
Solar prominences Nov. 12, 2011 (video)
Moon Nov. 15, 2011 (video)
Dark Sky areas in Virginia