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Smith Valley School students reach for the stars

Published On: Mar 15 2013 08:49:04 PM MDT

It's 10.5 feet tall, spherical, and resembles a bounce house. Don't know what it is? It's called a Starlab. Smith Valley School first grade teacher Melissa Martin received the chance to bring the mobile planetarium to the school after getting the unique opportunity to attend a NASA "LiftOff Institute" last summer.

"They taught us everything from the curiosity of being on Mars, to where NASA is going," said Martin. "While I was down there I was able to apply for a grant and that's how I got the Starlab."

The inflatable lab contains a projector light and several canisters that when placed on the light project the image of constellations around the dome. Students were excited to learn about the night sky as it rotated right before their eyes.

"It's nice to have because in science class you kind of fall asleep," commented sixth grader Tayshia Byrd. "In there, it's quieter. You can hear, and you can actually see it."

Madeline Sutton tells NBC Montana that Martin's astronomy lesson taught her about Greek and Native American constellations, as well as how to find them.

"When you look for certain stars you can look for landmarks," said Sutton. "And you can just look down or up and see that you know one of the stars."

Martin hopes that by bringing Starlab to Smith Valley, her students can take advantage of what's right outside their doors at night.

"We have such a privilege living where we are in the 'Big Sky,'" said Martin. "To have the constellations, have that time to be able to look up at the stars and that there are stories behind those stars. There's history behind them."