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When the coronavirus pandemic prohibited large school groups from visiting Tyler Junior College’s Earth and Space Science Center, staff members began seeking ways to educate students virtually.

“We’ve worked hard to provide a way to bring the field trip to them,” said Dr. Beau Hartweg, science center director.

The center began offering live, interactive virtual field trips via the Zoom platform, using the same Nightshade NG planetarium software that it uses on site. Each virtual field trip is 30 to 45 minutes long and hosted by a trained planetarium educator who guides students through the lesson and interacts with them as if they are touring the center in person.

The virtual tours cover a variety of earth and space science concepts, such as: constellations and the night sky; sun-earth-moon system; moon phases; the planets and the solar system; geology and more. Pre-recorded shows have also been created for classes without Zoom capabilities.

“We have seen great response from the East Texas community, and one of the benefits to doing virtual programs is that we can extend the reach beyond who we have traditionally been able to serve,” Hartweg said. “We already have virtual programs scheduled for school and community groups in states such as Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and New York — and even a school in India.”

In addition to school groups from grades kindergarten through 12, virtual field trips are available for homeschoolers, scouting groups and community events.

“We miss being able to see all the excited faces of students when they visit us in person, but we are thrilled about serving the community in this new way,” Hartweg said.

The science center is bringing “Rock and Roll Saturday” back to its 40-foot dome theater with a special event from 7 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 17. In keeping with health and safety guidelines, face coverings are required, and room capacity will be limited to allow for physical distancing.

“Rock the Dome” offers 3D visuals and effects that will captivate audiences as the 16,000-watt, digital surround-sound system plays alternative rock hits from artists including Audioslave, Beck, Linkin Park, Nine Inch Nails, 311, Modest Mouse, Smashing Pumpkins, Tool, Nirvana, Muse and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The show will also feature a few classic rock favorites ranging from The Beatles and Rolling Stones to The Doors and Aerosmith.

Tickets are $5 per person and can be purchased at sciencecenter.tjc.edu.

The science center continues to offer shows in its 40-foot dome theater, with limited seating, advance tickets required, and health and safety precautions strictly observed.

Admission is $7 for adults and $5 for children, students and senior citizens. Advance online reservations are required. Policies and procedures have been modified for the health and safety of science center visitors, and guests are advised to review the guidelines on the website before their visit. The dome theater is thoroughly cleaned between each showing.

On Tuesdays through Fridays, guests can reserve a private screening in the planetarium during the 9:45 a.m. timeslot. For a $25 flat fee, up to 15 visitors can enjoy a private viewing of any one of the shows from the center’s existing library.

The science center is located at 1411 E. Lake St., on the TJC main campus. Operating hours are 11 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, and private screening show times are 9:45 a.m. Tuesdays-Fridays. Parking is free.

For show listings, to purchase advance tickets, to review the health and safety guidelines or for other information, visit sciencecenter.tjc.edu.

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