School Shows

Treasures of the Great Lakes

Treasures of the Great Lakes

Title graphic for the planetarium show Treasures of the Great Lakes

Formed almost 10,000 years ago by glaciers and filled with meltwater from ancient snow and ice, the Great Lakes have long been a defining feature of Michigan and have played a major role in the state's development and history. Although these gorgeous natural treasures now see their heaviest use during the daytime, they also provide a majestic window into the nighttime sky.

The show begins with a brief look at Michigan's history. Before Europeans came to the Upper Midwest, Michigan was inhabited by Native American tribes: the Ojibwa, the Odawa, and the Potawatomie. These tribes were the first to navigate the waters of Michigan, using canoes to access food and other resources along the abundant waterways. Later, as European explorers arrived, trade in furs and other goods flourished between the Native Americans and the new arrivals. In the 1600s, LaSalle captained the first sailing ship across the Great Lakes, searching for a Northwest Passage to the Orient. Later, larger, steam-powered ships followed, shipping the products of Michigan's farmland, forests, and mines across the lakes.

Early ship captains relied on basic tools and knowledge of the sun and stars to navigate their ships. Polaris, or the North Star, was a fixed point of reference. Navigators measured the position of Polaris with sextants, and used compasses and charts to calculate their latitude and longitude.

Later on, lighthouses were used to mark the shoreline, channel entrances, or dangerous shoals. Michigan's first lighthouse was established in St. Joseph in 1882. These important structures originally ran on oil, and the light was refracted into a brilliant beam using glass lenses. Lighthouse keepers cleaned, fueled, and maintained the light and buildings. Although many lighthouses are no longer in use, some have been re-purposed as museums, landmarks, and parks.

Much like the lighthouses have guided us on the water, different stars and constellations can help guide us across the night sky. The bright stars of summer help us find constellations such as Hercules, Leo, Scorpius, Corona Borealis, and Hydra.