Friday, November 19, 2010

Let your love light shine

In 1969, 27-year- old Dr. William J. Kaufmann III became the youngest Director at any major observatory in the United States. His youth and vitality fueled his efforts to bridge the gap between the scientific community and the general public to allow everyone to share in the advances of astronomy.

Under Kaufmann's direction, Griffith Observatory would host a lunar exhibit, showcasing lunar rocks that allowed visitors to see up-close a piece of the celestial object which has been viewed countless times through the Observatory's telescopes. The exhibits in the Hall of Science reflected the public's interest in the space program, with an exhibit of a "spacemobile" and models of other spacecraft.

The new information about the moon learned by Apollo 11 and 12 also led to a new planetarium show entitled "New Discoveries from the Moon," which not only presented data but also dealt with the practical issue of whether these efforts were worth their lofty price tags.

In 1973, the first Laserium show in the U.S. was presented in the Observatory's planetarium theater. This laser-light program, set initially to classical music and later to songs from artists such as Pink Floyd, proved to be instantly popular. These exhibitions of modern laser light technology were conducted by a "laser-artist" (Laserist for short) with computer-programmed material to create eye-catching images. Kaufmann's goal to reach out to the public extended beyond theatrics, and in 1972 the Observatory premiered its first planetarium show in Spanish. Dr. Kaufmann left the Observatory in 1974 to pursue other interests and passed away in 1995.