One of the requirements of winning this award is to write up a report about the experience for an upcoming edition of the Planetarian. I’m a big fan of not duplicating assignments, so this post will form the guts of that report.

Of course it’s great to be home. Nothing is better than being with the people, dogs, and cats that I love dearly. Clean clothes are also deeply appreciated, as well as the comfort of my own bed. There’s the familiar hum of the planetarium’s fan, keeping the dome inflated, as well as seeing the night sky from the front yard.

We have walked far! These are the places my google map app on the phone recorded us as being in from April 13-29!

The question I have had many times: “How was the trip?” Fascinating! 

Kindred spirits! The planetario di Ravenna, featuring an enduring character from an American Sci Fi series, and some guy that kinda looks like him.

There are many moments I will always treasure. One of the highlights of the trip: being granted entrance into the manuscript room at the National library in Firenze, and some of the works of the GOAT of modern science, Galileo!

In the Biblioteque Nazionale, Firenze; gazing intently at the master’s writings. In this case, letters Galileo wrote. 

My hosts all did their finest to make Lorrie and I feel at home, including two stays in their residences. I will always remember the view from the back porch at Simonetta Ercoli’s home outside Perugia.

The view from Simonetta’s porch at night. Assisi on the left, Perugia on the right.

My favorite stop on the trip, though, was something I truly didn’t expect. For two nights, we were treated to a stay at the Convento Santissima Annunziata, outside the little town of Amelia.

The Convento Santissima Annunziata where we stayed, Amelia.

Art is everywhere! In this earthquake-damaged fresco, there is another, less famous fresco featuring the last supper in the dining hall at the convent.

One of my favorite experiences was attending mass in the convent’s chapel at 8 am, being served Communion by Fr. Luca, and then getting a custom-made omelet from Fr. Luca at 9 am, when we all ate breakfast together!

Artwork behind the altar, Convento Santissima Annunziata, Amelia.

As you might guess, stargazing (the one night an activity wasn’t planned for an observatory), I went outside the convent to stargaze, and the skies were clear and very dark! I should say that one should be careful outdoors in the Italian countryside, as we were warned about wolves and wild boars both being “around all the time.”

There was work to be done here as well, as the convent features a small planetarium and science museum onsite. I helped with the use of Stellarium as planetarium software, which was in use in many planetariums here.

I brought several specimens of NC’s gemstone, emerald; in NC’s state rock, pegmatite. I donated one to each host, and at least one made its way into the convent’s museum collection. A similar scene was repeated in Ravenna.

The museum at Convento Santissima Annunziata’s mineral collection, which is now joined by an NC emerald (upper right, on paper).

Me, knocking on Galileo’s door, Padova.

So, what was my impact as a planetarium educator and science teacher? I taught hundreds of students about Kinesthetic activities and the current exploration of Mars.  I had several informal “working discussions” with various planetarians, and attended, and presented at, the PlanIT planetarium meeting in Padua.

Group picture of the planIT conference attendees, Padova, 27 April 2024.

“All we are saying is give peace a chance!” A banner on the municipal building, Padova. Note the Italian flag, and the flag of the EU, and a rainbow warrior for peace!

So, what does it all mean? In short, there are many things that bind us as one species-a point I make fairly often as I’m teaching about Earth and space.  This trip reinforced that again for me.

My recommendations to the International Planetarium Society:

  1. Expand this program of international ambassadorship. Lorrie came up with the idea of having a spanish-speaking planetarian visit NC and SC for ten days. Of course, we’d be one of the hosts, but if your planetarium is interested in strutting your stuff, let me know!
  2. The award to defray travel expenses is currently set at 1,000 USD. That will fly you to and from Italy, and that’s about it.  Increase the stipend for future award winners, so even early-career planetarians can afford to take their significant other(s) comfortably. 
  3. Reward host planetariums with one year free membership in the organization, since they routinely provide transport, food, and lodging for their guests.

    My penultimate word goes to all of you planetarium-types: APPLY FOR THIS PROGRAM!

My last words go to our most esteemed and gracious Italian hosts: “Because I knew you,  I have been changed for good.” -from the Broadway show Wicked. I only hope that, given the opportunity, Lorrie and I will be half the hosts you all turned out to be! I have made new connections, colleagues, and friends for life! Grazie mille!

-Ken, over and out.