Up the street and out of this world: The Longo Planetarium at CCM in Randolph

Are you itching to get away from it all?  Need an exotic getaway where you can leave your cares far behind?

We have just the place for you!

It’s a remote little galaxy light years off the beaten path, in a forgotten corner of the Perseus constellation.

Chris Fenwick can take you there.  Your ticket: $10.

“We control the universe,” boasted Chris, astronomer and commander of the Starship Longo, a.k.a. the Longo Planetarium at the County College of Morris in Randolph.

MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE: CCM student Ernie Phillips and Longo Planetarium AstronomerChris Fenwick. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE: CCM student Ernie Phillips, left, with Longo Planetarium Astronomer Chris Fenwick. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Chris has run the 90-seat theater for a dozen years. He practically was born to the role; as a teenager, he helped run his high school planetarium in Newburgh, NY.

In 2011 the CCM planetarium got an $800,000 makeover, thanks in part to the generosity of Madeline and Joseph Longo. 

The old mechanical projector–that rotating contraption that looked like a giant ant poked full of holes–has been replaced by a compact Digistar 4 projection system that enables Chris and CCM student Ernie Phillips to create computer scripts to take visitors virtually anywhere in space.

“If you can imagine it, we can do it on the dome,” said Chris.

Throughout the week he presents shows to visiting school groups. Every so often, the doors open to the general public for family-friendly shows such as Shapes in the Sky and Tour of the Planets.

On a recent Friday night we caught Space Extreme, which introduced us to supernovae, black holes and a distant planet where it rains iron.

Artist concept of New Horizons spacecraft. Credit: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute (JHUAPL/SwRI)

Artist concept of New Horizons spacecraft. Credit: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute (JHUAPL/SwRI)

Kids ooh-ed and ah-ed while hitching a ride with New Horizons,  a NASA probe hurtling to Pluto at more than 36,000 m.p.h.

The spacecraft should arrive in the summer of 2015, after a nine-year journey.  Fortunately, pictures from Pluto only should take about 10 hours to get here, according to Chris. Not quite the speed of Instagram…but not bad, considering the distance is 3 billion miles.

What the CCM planetarium lacks in Hollywood flash, Chris more than makes up for with his peppery narration.

Which is really the charm of the experience.

Don’t expect the awesome surround soundtrack or Spielberg-worthy special effects of New York’s multimillion dollar Hayden Planetarium.  Instead, prepare for something more intimate. Imagine laying in the grass on a summer night, staring at the heavens, listening to your own personal tour guide.

Invite the neighbors; they won’t be getting any shuteye. Not once Chris fires his booster rockets and starts enumerating celestial wonders.

“It’s a performance every time,” said Chris, starry-eyed Master of the Universe and master mind-boggler.

Bottom line: Point your travel craft to the Longo Planetarium. Check your mind at the door. Sit back.

And let the boggling begin.


County College of Morris, 214 Center Grove Road, Randolph

Tickets: $10 adults; $5 children 12 and younger, seniors, CCM students and employees

$3 per person group rate (35 person minimum); customized shows available

Check website for show schedule

For information and reservations, call 973-328-5076






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