The Lowell and Nancy Lohman Family Planetarium

Wed, Feb 26, 2020 at 10:35AM

By Seth Mayo, Curator of Astronomy


Since we first began teaching the wonders of the universe in the original facility in 1972, the planetarium here at MOAS has never had an official name. That all changed this past fall when we excitedly announced our new name: the Lowell and Nancy Lohman Family Planetarium. This was only made possible by the generous donation from Lowell and Nancy Lohman, who gifted $2.5 million dollars to our Museum endowment. As very successful Florida business owners and influential philanthropists in Volusia County, Lowell and Nancy’s passion for astronomy and planetarium education fueled their ambition to contribute to the Museum in such an astronomical way. To gain an understanding for their love of all-things-space, and their desire to cultivate education, we sat down with Nancy and Lowell for a brief interview.


Because of your generous support to MOAS, what does it mean to you both that this facility is now called the Lowell and Nancy Lohman Family Planetarium?

Nancy: For me, I think that in the planetarium, that students particularly, but people of all ages, who get the chance to come will be inspired to learn, and I think they'll be inspired to learn in a really fun way. The more education is fun and the more it's inspiring, the better job it will do with our children, and the better job we'll have as a future.

Lowell: Now to be asked by Hyatt and Cici Brown mainly, but to be asked to be involved in the planetarium - Nancy and I are ecstatic. When they first talked to us about getting involved, they did not know the astronomy background that Nancy and I had. So, we had lunch at their house one day - and all of a sudden - the planetarium came up and they saw Nancy's and my reaction. They saw how excited we got, and they figured that they had us hooked at that point. But, it's so incredibly nice to be involved with the Museum of Arts & Sciences. Also, Carl Persis, the chairman of the school board in Volusia County now, when he found out that Nancy and I had gotten involved in everything - he was almost in tears. He got so excited, and Nancy and I didn't know at the time, he said, “Lowell, we send students to the planetarium every week and the stories we hear from the teachers and everybody are phenomenal.” The excitement that he had that we were involved was very rewarding for us.



Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, dedicated a special performance of ‘Fly Me To The Moon’ just for them.

We hear there is a personal story to tell about your love for astronomy.

Nancy: One of the things that I've always loved about Lowell is how much he values education, and one of his favorite quotes is, “life's adventures begin with education,” and I realized that he was a consummate learner many years ago. One of the true testimonies of that was when he wanted to take an astronomy class because he never had the chance when he was at Florida State. So, I joined him in taking that class, and the funniest thing to me is he wanted to have supplemental reading to go along with his textbooks. That told me that, not only is he a consummate learner, but he really attacks the things that he really finds interesting.

Lowell: I think the first thing that got me interested in it pretty much was I majored in biology and chemistry at Florida State. After I graduated, I had a chance to take astronomy one time there, and I didn't take it – I’m sure I took Badminton or something in place of it – so for years and-years I felt like I missed something. Then it was in the local Daytona Beach News-Journal one day that there was a one night a week - on Thursday nights - a 3-hour class on astronomy. So, I told Nancy, you know, when I read it in the paper, “Nancy it's just something I feel like I missed in life and I’m thinking about taking astronomy.” Well, the next day she says to me she'll take it also. It ended up being both of us, but it was just incredibly exciting, and I found out a lot about myself in the next month or two. I read everything that moved - they even knew me at Barnes & Noble on a first-name basis. We read the textbooks and everything, and it was crazy. I still don’t believe I did it. And I would go to Barnes & Noble and check out other books that had similar things and read the other stuff on astronomy. So, it was a good learning experience, and to have your wife there - you know it wasn't the number one thing she wanted to do was to take astronomy, but I think we both laugh about it now. But yes, I've always had an interest in astronomy. 


How have you both kept up this shared passion for astronomy over the years? 
Any favorite television shows or observatories you visited over the years, or even night sky observing events you've been to?

Nancy: So, we have traveled to a lot of different observatories - Kitt Peak, Keck - but one of the best experiences I've ever had regarding the night sky was seeing the Northern Lights. Gosh, if you want to be inspired by the sky, that's the way to do it. I mean the Northern Lights were amazing, and just to see that movement, and to know that something out there is happening, and to see how colorful it was - it was fantastic. I actually photographed it and captured amazing photos. So, it's one thing to see the sky and to appreciate all the stars and appreciate what's happening up there, but then to let your camera just sit for a few seconds - 8, 10, 15 seconds - and see what's really there in the sky - that's phenomenal. That’s what you see with the Northern Lights, I mean you see that there's so much out there that you had no idea what's happening. It's pretty exciting. 

Lowell: I think the Keck telescope at that time was the largest in the world, and Nancy and I flew all the way to Hawaii to visit it at the top of mountain Mauna Kea at the time. A couple of years after that we went to Kitt Peak [in southern California] and it has even more – something like 16 separate telescopes. And obviously, the key to telescopes is to get up above the atmosphere so you get a clearer picture of what's happening out there. In Flagstaff, Arizona, there is the Lowell Observatory, so Nancy and I obviously had to go there. We actually got to see the Orion Nebula, which is just fascinating, and we had a special deal that they had set up for us where we got to sit at the telescope for a long period of time and relax and concentrate on it. The funny thing was just before we left, Nancy went to the observatory gift shop and bought every t-shirt they had so everyone in our family - and a lot of our friends - had t-shirts that said Lowell Observatory. There are two to three others that we went to over a period of time, and we were searching for other observatories to visit because it is so interesting. You can tell that this has been a great experience for us both. To have a facility here in Daytona is just phenomenal, now that Embry Riddle has a large telescope that I think is one of the largest in the southeast.


Do you each have a favorite celestial object, or planet?

Lowell: As I already mentioned, you know the Orion Nebula, with all the stars, and then the band of - I don't know how many stars there - but right across the waist there must be something like 20 stars there, you know kind of clustered together, and the rest of the figure you can see - that's my favorite. 

Nancy: Well I have to say Vega [star], because I can find it! But I will tell you, this will sound sappy, but my favorite is the North Star, and that's Lowell. He's my North star.

Lowell: Get out of here! (laughter)


Is there any aspect of the universe you'd like to know more about?

Lowell: How it all got started. There's a question mark out there - we know just enough I think now to be dangerous - as time goes by we find out more and more. I think just trying to visualize the Big Bang - how it got started, how all these stars got started - to me that's the fascinating thing as time goes by. They found that the universe is expanding. How did it happen? What's happening now because of that? And as you study it, it does make sense, but it's hard for the brain to comprehend it all.


Looking forward, what kind of impact do you hope the Lowell and Nancy Lohman Family Planetarium will have on future generations?

Nancy: I hope the planetarium encourages education. I hope it encourages people of all ages to want to continue to learn, to continue to wonder, to continue to explore. I hope that it is a part of why people love Daytona Beach.

Lowell: If you've not been here you're missing something. I think the new facility - you know it had been redone like five or six years ago and when we walked in the doors, it was pretty impressive. And I think if you haven't been here, that you're missing something - it's such a great facility. To look up at the sky and see all the constellations and everything that you see while you're here and learn about the planetarium and know it's part of Daytona Beach too. You know, there are planetariums in most of the major cities, but being involved in our city here - we just encourage anybody that's not been here to get your butt out here because it's pretty impressive. That’s my advice to people.



Explore the Universe

Explore the universe with us in our completely digital planetarium where science, art, and technology blend seamlessly to create an experience that you will not forget. Enjoy one of many full-dome space films, a night sky tour from a live presenter, a fascinating talk from a scientist, or even a stunning laser rock concert with your favorite music. Whether you visit the Lohman Planetarium as part of your day at MOAS or are just stopping by for a show, there are plenty of programs that will capture your imagination.

As you sit in one of 94 reclining seats, an immersive environment is generated 360 degrees around you from our OmniStar™ projector fitted with a fish-eye lens, capable of displaying vibrant and colorful HD content across our expansive 40-foot hemispherical dome. Coupled with a powerful audio system that truly surrounds the audience, the planetarium helps you feel like you are really traveling through space or visiting the terrain of an exotic far-off world. The powerhouse of the planetarium comes from its software, Uniview™, that provides a three-dimensional perspective of the observable universe - allowing us to navigate the starfield from any spot on Earth, fly to the International Space Station in low-Earth orbit, skim through the rings of Saturn, and cruise around galaxies billions of light-years away. As discoveries are made and new missions take flight, the Uniview™ database is constantly being updated to reflect the most current understanding of our universe.

Since the opening of our first facility in 1971, the planetarium has been instrumental in underscoring the term "science" in the Museum of Arts & Sciences name. We strive to continue that tradition in our current facility that opened in 2014. With this digital window into our universe, we hope to inspire all ages to keep wondering.


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