Stars will shine once again at CSM planetarium

Four months after a fire-suppression sprinkler system was haphazardly triggered and flooded the College of San Mateo’s new planetarium, the refurbished facility is set to open its doors for a public viewing tonight.

The 3,300-square-foot planetarium, which first opened in January, shut down after a March 23 incident in which sprinklers along the ceiling inexplicably went off, spraying gallons of water throughout the interior and ruining the star projector and video equipment.

Astronomy professor Darryl Stanford was in the planetarium with about a half-dozen students when “the sprinklers went off without any alarm or warning.”

“We got soaked,” Stanford said. “We weren’t hurt, just wet.”

The incident caused an estimated $1.75 million in damage.

The planetarium reopened to students and faculty last month. Tonight marks the first time the public will have access to a regular stargazing show that occurs every second Friday of the month.

While it was closed, Stanford and other astronomy teachers used the campus theater and cafeteria for classes.

“I’m very excited because not only is it working and it’s not wet anymore, but I can teach my classes in there now,” he said.

The 100-seat facility and its 55-foot dome were built as part of a $207 million bond package approved by voters in 2001. It also accommodates the San Mateo County Astronomy Society and a program called “Project Stargaze,” which hosts elementary school classes.

“Astronomy is one of the best ways of bringing science to the public because there is such an awe to it,” said professor Mohsen Janatpour, CSM’s astronomy coordinator. “My goal has always been to constantly elevate the public’s appreciation of science, and the planetarium and the observatory are some of the best tools I can use.”

The cause of the incident is still under investigation, said CSM spokesman Mike Habeeb. Facility managers have since replaced the deluge sprinkler system with a standard one that uses fewer spigots at the same time.


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