Pierce Collegeâ€™s Science Dome, located on the Fort Steilacoom campus in Lakewood, offers visitors the show of a lifetime for the price of a latte.
Hillary Stephens, associate professor of physics and astronomy and the domeâ€™s coordinator, explained that the first half-hour of the show could consist of a tour of that nightâ€™s sky, or it could cover things like black holes.
The digital planetarium allows visitors to go just about anywhere in the known universe, she said.
â€œYou are sitting underneath and we can project whatever we want up there,â€ she said. â€œIf you can put it on a computer screen, we can put it on the dome. We can simulate the night sky or the view out of a space ship.â€
The presenters are either college students or staff, and they put the content together. Stephens said everyone is extremely excited to offer the public such a rare view of the universe.
After the presentations, there is a half-hour dome video. â€œYou feel like you are flying through space in your chair,â€ said Stephens.
The three public shows each week run at 7 p.m. on Friday and 2 and 3:15 in the afternoon on Saturdays. The 2 oâ€™clock show is geared toward children ages 3 to 8 years old, and Stephens said a lot of grandparents bring their grandchildren to that presentation.
During the 2 p.m. show, there is an open space in the front of the auditorium for the children to sit on the floor. â€œThe presenter has hands-on activities for them to do,â€ Stephens said, adding that an upcoming presentation, titled â€œComets, Asteroids and Meteors, Oh My,â€ is guaranteed to thrill. Adults attending the 2 p.m. Saturday show with children are admitted free, and the show lasts 45 minutes. Prices for the other shows are $3 for children up to 18 and $6 for adults.
Hall lights are left on for the 2 oâ€™clock show for any children who might become uncomfortable in the dark.
The planetariumâ€™s goal, said Stephens, is to be used for classes, but also to reach out to the public by â€œbringing science to the community and having them get interested in it and learn.â€
Since the programs repeat every five weeks, visitors are encouraged to return to the planetarium often to see a new show.
Stephens teaches classes on astrobiology at Pierce College. She said her high school physics and astronomy teacher sparked her interest in the field.
â€œI think one of the things that has always captured me is the idea that there is just so much out there that we donâ€™t know, and being part of discovering that is awesome,â€ she said.
The planetarium will hold another public event on March 14 called â€œPi Day,â€ said Stephens.
The Fort Steilacoom campus is at 9401 Farwest Dr. More information about the planetarium can be found at piercecollegedome.com.