The Milky Way wobbled fuzzily on the cardboard surface, then eased into focus.
Tevin Leyba and Nathan Emerson held the hand-built, five-sided pyramid above the projected image, demonstrating a miniature version of their project-in-progress.
The cardboard structure is one of six that, combined with 10 smaller cardboard triangles, will form a light gray-painted dome which, resting on hinged particleboard walls, can display projected stars and planets to students throughout the Nampa School District.
Its a portable planetarium, and its the senior project for high school students Emerson and Leyba.
Instead of having to pay to go to a planetarium, this can be such a good alternative, said Emerson. People can learn so much.
Emerson, a senior at Columbia High School, and Nampa High senior Leyba both said they have taken virtually every class offered by the Nampa districts Academy of Information Technology. Both see software development in their future.
Its interesting, they said, to physically build something rather than limiting their creations to the virtual world.
Its nice knowing youre actually accomplishing things, Leyba said last week, shortly after they stood the 10-section particleboard walls up for the first time.
The teens started working on the walls and dome about a month ago, he said, putting in five or more hours a week cutting, drilling, measuring and assembling. Its been a little more work than they bargained for, he said, but its fun.
I do make the geeks get dirty once in awhile, said John Lucas, director of the Columbia High-based Academy of Information Technology.
FROM NAMPA TO SATURN
The finished planetarium will be 13 feet across, large enough to educate and entertain groups of 12 to 15 students at a time.
We dont know the height yet, said Lucas. Were hoping its less than the ceiling, he added with a laugh, then noted it will likely be about 13 feet tall.
By the middle of February, Emerson and Leyba plan to assemble the dome in Columbia Highs commons area the only available space big enough. There, the student-built planetarium will offer its first virtual voyages to the stars.
After a couple of weeks strutting its stellar stuff on the home turf, the planetarium will be available to elementary, middle and high schools throughout the Nampa district. Students will transport and reassemble the structure at interested schools, generally for stays of two or three weeks, Lucas said.
Using an LCD projector and a half-dome mirror, the planetarium will display images Microsofts WorldWide Telescope that can range from the night sky in Nampa to interesting planets like Jupiter and Saturn, Lucas said.
Itll work for any astronomy lesson, Emerson said, from short presentations for elementary school students to detailed coursework for high-schoolers.
Plans for the portable planetarium were adapted from projects the students found online, Lucas said.
UNIQUE IN THE VALLEY
There are other planetariums in the Treasure Valley permanent domes at the College of Idaho in Caldwell and Capital High School in Boise, plus inflatable Starlab portable planetariums in the Boise and Meridian school districts, C of I and the Discovery Center of Idaho. Capitals T.C. Bird Planetarium is the oldest, hosting classes and a popular Christmas-season public program since the fall of 1969.
But Leyba and Emersons effort will be the first Idaho planetarium thats student-built, Lucas said. And its price tag, requiring no district dollars, is well-suited to these tight financial times, Lucas said.
The most basic Starlab portable planetarium costs $13,550 according to the manufacturers website. Lucas estimated the Nampa portables total project cost at about $1,100. He secured a $750 Cap Ed grant and pitched in some money of his own, he said, but not as much as I expected to thanks to donations from suppliers Stone Lumber, Best Buy and Multiquip.
The portable planetarium is expected to be in use at Nampa schools for years after Emerson and Leyba graduate, more than fulfilling the academys requirement that senior projects be something that will benefit someone else, Lucas said.
This project is one of the most ambitious Lucas has seen, he said, adding that hes been impressed by the way the students have thrown themselves into the task.
Senior project has a reputation of being drudgery for students, but these guys have really gotten into it and made it fun, their teacher said. Its really nice to see.
Tom Campbell, director of the Boise School Districts T.C. Bird Planetarium, said hes happy to hear Nampa will soon have a portable planetarium.
Thats awesome, Campbell said. The more kids involved in astronomy, the better.
Kristin Rodine: 377-6447