The Smolen Observatory has named a new planetarium director,: Raj Pandya.
Pandya replaces Amy Donnelly, a lecturer at New Paltz, in his new position.
Pandya said he hopes to use the planetarium to educate the public.
“I love bringing astronomy education to students and the general public and the planetarium is a great tool I use to accomplish that,” said Pandya.
Fellow astronomy and physics professor and Observatory Smolen Director Amy Forestell said she is glad to welcome Pandya as the new director.
“I am very excited about having Raj Pandya as our new planetarium director,” said Forestell. “With his masters’ degree in astronomy he brings a new level of expertise to the planetarium shows. He also is an excellent professor and stays up-to-date with the latest pedagogical methods in astronomy education.”
Appointed over the summer, Pandya will also serve as a lecturer for Introduction to Physics and astronomy classes.
He obtained his Bachelor’s of Science degree in Applied Physics from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and then went onto obtain his Master of Science degree from San Diego State University in Astronomy. According to Pandya, his research dissertation was on the detection and characterization of extrasolar planets. In addition to this, he has taught physics and astronomy for the past three years.
A major goal for Pandya is to raise awareness about the planetarium across the campus. He would like to encourage visitors to attend the Astronomy Night the planetarium offers. Shows will be given for elementary and high school classes from the area and for groups on campus such as alumni.
According to Forestell, the planetarium is an indoor facility that projects star images onto a domed ceiling. The shows vary, but will usually contain information about what stars are visible that night, some mythology about the constellations and a topic of current interest in astronomy.
After the planetarium show, and if the weather is clear, Forestell plans to open up the observatory.
“The observatory is an outdoor facility that houses telescopes used to view objects in the night sky,” said Forestell. “We will look at stars, planets, star clusters, nebulae and galaxies. If it is cloudy then we are not able to use the telescopes.”
Meanwhile, another way Pandya plans to raise more awareness is through the Cosmic Club.
“The club encourages students from all academic backgrounds with an interest in astronomy to come to club meetings where they can learn more about topics which they are interested in, discuss new findings in astronomy, and learn more about the operational capabilities of the planetarium,” said Pandya.
Pandya said he hopes to spread the word about the “joys of astronomy.”
“By holding planetarium shows and telescope viewings at the Smolen Observatory on the same night I am hopeful that we will build up a regular audience of professionals, amateurs and casual star-gazers,” said Pandya.
Astronomy Nights are the first and third Thursdays of the month at the observatory. For more information, contact the current director at 845-257-3750.