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Charles and Helen Reichert Planetarium

Heather Lynch

As part of its Ecology and Climate Change lecture series, the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, 180 Little Neck Road, Centerport will welcome Stony Brook University’s Heather Lynch for a presentation titled Mapping Penguins with Satellites, Drones and Other Technologies in the Charles and Helen Reichert Planetarium on April 14 at 7 p.m.

In Mapping Penguins, with Satellites, Drones, and Other Technologies, Professor Lynch will share insights from her innovative research into the population dynamics of penguins on the Antarctic Peninsula. To better understand rises and falls in this population due to climate change, tourism, and fishing, Lynch marries traditional field work with a range of technologically sophisticated methods including satellite remote sensing, drone imaging, and advanced computational models.

“Penguin populations have been changing rapidly over the last 40 years,” says Lynch. “But understanding why those changes have occurred and what we might expect for the future is a surprisingly difficult challenge. [In this lecture,] I’ll discuss the threats facing Antarctic penguins and how scientists are bringing together new technology, artificial intelligence, and advanced predictive modeling to help guide policymakers in their work to protect one of the world’s last remaining wildernesses.”

Dr. Heather J. Lynch is the Institute for Advanced Computational Sciences Endowed Chair for Ecology & Evolution at Stony Brook University. She earned a B.A. in Physics from Princeton University, an M.A. in Physics from Harvard University, and a Ph.D. in Organismal and Evolutionary Biology from Harvard. She is also a National Geographic Explorer and past winner of the Blavatnik Award for Young Scientists.

Join Lynch as she shares her insight and research. $6 per person, members free. To register, visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org.

From left: Dave Bush; trustees Elizabeth Cambria and James Kelly; Christine Berardi of National Grid Foundation; trustees Laura Gerde, Gretchen Oldrin Mones, and Jack DeMasi; and Elizabeth-Wayland Morgan. Photo from Vanderbilt Museum
Century-old estate trail reclaimed, enhanced

William K. Vanderbilt II built a hiking trail in the 1920s on his Eagle’s Nest waterfront estate in Centerport that became overgrown and disappeared into the forest. The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, located at Eagle’s Nest, has reclaimed the trail, and held a grand opening in November. Major project donors and museum trustees attended the event in the Rose Garden, which is also the trailhead.

Now called the Solar System Hiking Trail, the course includes a scale model of the Solar System, which complements STEM and astronomy-education programs offered by the Charles and Helen Reichert Planetarium.

“This is a long-awaited day. We are grateful to Christine Berardi and the National Grid Foundation for 10 years of outstanding, unwavering support and to Vanderbilt trustee Laura Gerde and her husband, Eric Gerde. Their ongoing contributions to our STEM programming include the exhibits in the Planetarium lobby. Their steadfast support makes it possible for the Museum to expand its work as a leader in astronomy and science education,” said Elizabeth Wayland-Morgan, executive director of the Vanderbilt Museum.

Other project donors are Marilyn and Russell Albanese, BAE Systems, Farrell Fritz Attorneys, Northwell Health, People’s United Bank, and PFM Asset Management.

Wayland-Morgan said Dave Bush, the director of the Charles and Helen Reichert Planetarium, “single-handedly created the Solar System trail — I don’t think there’s a program like this anywhere else.” She also thanked Jim Munson, the museum’s operations supervisor. “Jim noticed portions of the original trail and saw its potential. He said let’s do this.” 

Bush said that scale models of the solar system have been created before at museums, science centers, and universities. “But the Vanderbilt’s trail is likely the only one that traverses a one-mile hiking trail with hundreds of feet in elevation changes,” he said. “It is an opportunity for visitors to learn about the bodies in our solar system and its vast scale, and to see and experience parts of the museum property that have never been seen before by the public.”

Vanderbilt visitors enjoy a trip into space. Photo by Jennifer Vacca

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum in Centerport found a way in the late 1960s to honor William K. Vanderbilt II’s (1878-1944) love of science and exploration – and to create a new revenue source – when it decided to build a planetarium. Last month, the Vanderbilt Reichert Planetarium observed its 50th birthday.

Opened on June 29, 1971, the Planetarium began generating income to support Museum operations. The Planetarium was a testimony to Mr. Vanderbilt’s passionate interest in science and astronomy and his use of celestial navigation in the early 20th century while circumnavigating the globe in his yachts. Most importantly, the Planetarium was and is essential to the Museum’s mission to provide high-quality astronomy and science education.

The Planetarium, which was popular with visitors immediately, became an invaluable teaching tool. By the second decade of this century, however, the facility and its technology were worn and years out of date. In 2012, the Vanderbilt, with substantial help from Suffolk County, undertook a $4-million renovation and complete technological update of the facility, which reopened on March 15, 2013.

The renovation design allows the star projector to retract out of audience sightlines. This feature, along with removable rows of seating, provides flexibility for the William and Mollie Rogers Theater to be used also as a venue for lectures, performing arts, and large-group meetings. Flexible theatre space allows the Museum to expand its audiences, visibility, and regional appeal.

In February 2020, the Vanderbilt received approval from Suffolk County to use Museum endowment funds for significant technological upgrades. The Vanderbilt purchased two advanced systems – laser phosphorus full-dome video projectors that generate sharper imagery and laser-beam projectors to enhance laser-light entertainment shows. Dave Bush, director of the Planetarium, said this state-of-the-art equipment adds dimension and excitement and greatly improves the visual experience.

The Planetarium is an education center with astronomy programs for visiting school groups that align with New York State educational standards. The facility also offers science entertainment programs and laser-light shows. The Observatory recently added a solar telescope for safe viewing of the Sun.

The Planetarium, which has a 60-foot-diameter dome, is one of the largest and most advanced in the United States. More than 85,000 visitors see shows there each year.

In honor of its largest benefactors, the Vanderbilt renamed the facility the Charles and Helen Reichert Planetarium in 2019. Their unprecedented gift is helping to ensure the Planetarium’s future.

Visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org for upcoming shows and programs.


Reichert Planetarium educator Erin Bennett teaches astronomy via Zoom. Vanderbilt photo

The National Grid Foundation (NGF) – a longtime partner of the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum and its STEM programs – has been essential to the Museum’s outreach efforts to high-needs schools on Long Island.

For nine years, NGF support has enabled the Vanderbilt Reichert Planetarium to take its highly regarded astronomy and science education programs into under-served schools – free of charge – and to serve more than 25,000 students.

The current 2020-2021 school year marks the third year in a row that NGF has supported the Exploring the Universe: Traveling Astronomy Program, taught by educators from the Museum’s Charles and Helen Reichert Planetarium. Normally, they teach on-site in schools. This year, however, the educators traveled to schools virtually, live via Zoom. During the current school year, 1,685 students in more than 60 classes participated.

Dave Bush, director of the Reichert Planetarium, said, “We are happy to extend our professional expertise in the field of astronomy education to schools that would not otherwise be able to visit the Reichert Planetarium. Our goal is to provide quality programming that sparks curiosity, wonder, and excitement. Students who partake in our presentations are afforded highly engaging visuals and activities that leave lasting impressions.”

Exploring the Universe (ETU), developed and presented live by highly trained Vanderbilt science educators, immerses students in grades K-8 in an engaging astronomy course. An exciting multimedia presentation primes students to learn and inspires them to consider a variety of astronomy topics. ETU offers two live virtual programs, Space Adventure to the Moon and Exploring the Solar System.

Exploring the Universe is designed to offer educational experiences beyond the walls of the Vanderbilt Reichert Planetarium. Educators provide materials to help students learn and explore in greater detail the topics taught in the classroom. The program serves the communities and schools of Nassau and Suffolk counties to provide exciting learning experiences about the world of astronomy.

For more information, visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org.


The Vanderbilt Museum's Charles and Helen Reichert Planetarium is a state-of-the-art, 147-seat facility that features educational and entertainment shows. Photo by Jennifer Vacca

The Suffolk County Legislature has voted to permanently rename the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum Planetarium in honor of Charles and Helen Reichert of Fort Salonga.

The Reicherts, whose long-standing philanthropic contributions have made meaningful impacts across Suffolk County, entered into an agreement with the Vanderbilt Museum in 2013 and pledged to support the planetarium’s mission and programs through a 20-year donation worth approximately $1.7 million. The vote was taken at the December general meeting.

Legislator William “Doc” Spencer said, “I’ve had the privilege of knowing the Reicherts for a number of years and have seen firsthand how their giving has made a difference in Huntington.”

He continued, “Their continued generosity and willingness to provide resources to the community and important causes never ceases to amaze me. With Charlie and Helen’s support, the Museum and Planetarium will continue to thrive and provide thousands of students and visitors with access to the historical and astronomical wonders found right here in Centerport. This is a fitting tribute to a generous and humble family, which I am proud to support.”

Charles Reichert owns several IGA grocery stores. Through the years, he and his wife have donated more than $4 million to nonprofit, public institutions and health facilities from Huntington to Southold. These gifts include approximately $1.2 million to Huntington Hospital and $1 million to New York State for the betterment of Nissequogue River State Park.

Among many other projects, the couple also has donated funds to upgrade the Southold police communications dispatch center, purchased new uniforms for local public school sports teams, established a $6,000 annual scholarship for high school students, restored the Old Burying Ground in Southold and funded the reconstruction of the church steeple at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Northport.

Lance Reinheimer, former executive director of the Vanderbilt, said, “The Reicherts are deeply committed to preserve and improve the quality of life for all Long Islanders. They are shining lights in the community, deserving of this distinction for their widespread support of organizations throughout the county.”

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum is located at 180 Little Neck Road in Centerport. For more information, call 631-854-5579 or visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org.

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Newest show, Laser Beyoncé, premieres June 30

Summer is a great time to enjoy spectacular, laser light musical entertainment shows at the Charles and Helen Reichert Planetarium at the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum. The venue will bring back audience laser show favorites like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd: Dark Side of the Moon, and will premiere its newest one-hour show, Laser Beyoncé, on Saturday, June 30, at 7 p.m.

Beyoncé, one of the most awarded and best-selling artists of all time, is acclaimed for her thrilling vocals, videos and live shows. Laser Beyoncé captures the fun and energy of the singer’s concerts in beautiful laser light imagery with some of her most popular songs including “Formation,” “Irreplaceable,” “Independent Women Part 1,” “Naughty Girl,” “Halo,” “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” “If I Were a Boy,” “Crazy in Love,” “XO,” “Single Ladies,” “Love on Top,” “Freedom,” “Survivor” and “Run the World.”

‘Our educational and entertainment programs attract a diverse audience to one of the finest planetariums in the country,” said Lance Reinheimer, executive director of the Vanderbilt Museum. Dave Bush, technical and production coordinator for the planetarium, added, “We present award-winning, world-renowned, full-dome productions, as well as live presentations with an astronomy educator that show off the amazing capabilities of our domed theater’s cutting-edge technology. The Reichert Planetarium boats the highest level of laser programming available.”

Live presentations also include Long Island Skies on Fridays at 8 p.m. and Night Sky, Live! on Saturdays at 8 p.m. The planetarium also presents shows that feature jaw-dropping journeys to the outer reaches of the solar system. The 60-foot domed theater features a Konica-Minolta star projector, full-dome video and surround sound for an exciting, immersive audience experience.

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum and Planetarium is located at 180 Little Neck Road in Centerport. For show schedules, visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org. For more information, call 631-854-5579.

The Charles and Helen Reichert Planetarium

Through Feb. 28, the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum’s Charles and Helen Reichert Planetarium, 180 Little Neck Road, Centerport, will present a new laser show, Laser Zeppelin, on Friday and Saturday nights at 10 p.m. Enjoy the memorable music of Led Zepplin combined with unique laser-generated imagery for an immersive visual experience, all in the comfort of custom theater seating.

The playlist will include “The Song Remains the Same,” “Over the Hills and Far Away,” “Good Times, Bad Times,” “Immigrant Song,” “No Quarter,” “Black Dog,” “Kashmir,” “Stairway to Heaven” and many more. Planetarium show tickets are $9 for adults, $8 for students with ID and seniors 62 and older and $7 for children under 12. Suitable for all ages, the show runs 52 minutes. For more information call 631-854-5579 or visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org.