The Cowboy Astronomer

Narrated by cowboy humorist
Baxter Black

The Cowboy Astronomer

Explore the stars from a cowboy's point of view!

The Cowboy Astronomer is a skillfully woven tapestry of star tales and Native American legends, combined with constellation identification, star-hopping, and astronomy tidbits — all told from the unique viewpoint of a cowboy astronomer who has traveled the world plying his trade and learning the sky along the way.

Howdy folks! We'll bet you've never heard of a cowboy astronomer, right? Well, neither had we — until Nello Williams, planetarium director in Gillette, Wyoming, left a message on our answering machine, saying "Hey guys, let's do a show about cowboys and the stars." It turns out that Gillette was hosting the National High School Rodeo Championships, and Nello wanted a special show to present to the folks in town for the occasion, as well as something new and different to run for his district's school shows.

Carolyn started thinking. Cowboys spend a lot of time out where the skies are dark, and so do astronomers. Astronomers roam the sky looking for stars and planets, just like cowboys roam the range looking for cattle. Astronomers just might be the ranchers of the universe! Our culture has paired "cowboys and Indians" for decades, so Native American sky legends are a natural. Nowadays, we're modern folk — even out on the wild frontier, with cellular phones in our pickup trucks, and satellite dishes to watch TV. Inspiration kicked in. Nello got his special planetarium show, and now Loch Ness Productions offers it to you — The Cowboy Astronomer.

It covers the standard stuff — constellations, star tales, sky legends, and of course astronomy. But this isn't your ordinary, garden-variety planetarium show.

For one thing, it features the planetarium narrating debut of nationally-renowned cowboy humorist and poet Baxter Black. Known for his commentary on National Public Radio's "Morning Edition," or TV performances on NBC's "Tonight Show", he's a first-rate storyteller and just the sort of person to personify a credible cowboy astronomer. Carolyn crafted the words carefully to fit our cowboy's natural Western drawl, and Baxter said he was thrilled to work with the great script. To provide the voice of an Indian storyteller for one section, we turned to an expert — noted storyteller Lynn Moroney.

Putting the narration, sound effects and music together was Mark's job, as usual — but we don't expect you've ever heard a planetarium soundtrack featuring the sounds of guitars, banjo, harmonica, honky-tonk piano and even an accordion before!

The basic premise of The Cowboy Astronomer is simple: we're in the Western outdoors, listening to star legends and cowboy tales around the campfire. Our cowboy astronomer gives us his perspective of the night sky, and the things he's found out over a lifetime of stargazing. He talks about star colors and temperatures — and we see how blue stars are hotter than red stars by the chili pepper ratings beneath them! We find the Andromeda Galaxy by hitting a first-base foul out of the park of the Great Baseball Diamond In The Sky. Along the way, we learn about young stars and supernovae, and what various cultures called the Pleiades.

We hear two Native American star tales: the Fisher story of the cruel chieftain holding the birds of summer captive, and the Devil's Tower tale of the Seven Indian Maidens and the Bear. We see the Anasazi pictographs of the 1054 supernova, and Sirius rising over Wyoming's Medicine Wheel. The show ends on a thoughtful, philosophical manner, as our cowboy muses about the constellation where he wants to head when he departs this Earth. He decides on Cygnus, for the black hole it contains.

There's never been a program like The Cowboy Astronomer. It's a fresh new perspective in the planetarium medium; a unique, different, and thoroughly entertaining show unlike anything you've seen or heard before. It'll make your audiences laugh, it'll tug at their heart strings — all the while teaching about the universe and humanity's relationship with the stars.

Running time: 37:00
Age level: General public
Year of production: 1993
Narrated by Baxter Black
Words expertly crafted by Carolyn Collins Petersen
Stereo soundtrack with original music by Geodesium

The Cowboy AstronomerThe educational focus of the show is to present basic sky lore and astronomy information to a general audience from a unique viewpoint. A set of multicultural and multidisciplinary themes are woven throughout the program. These ideas help relate the information presented in the show to the lives of students, families, and the general public.

Show content is relevant in the following subject areas:

Earth and Space Sciences:
  • Objects in the sky: stars, constellations, the Orion Nebula, the Andromeda Galaxy, the Pleiades star cluster, the Crab Nebula supernova, the explosion of Supernova 1987a, the Cygnus X-1 black hole, the highly variable Eta Carinae
  • Changes in the sky: diurnal motion of the stars; seasonal changes in the sky
  • The Orion Nebula, Betelgeuse, the Crab Nebula supernova, Supernova 1987a, Eta Carinae

Physical Science:
  • Properties of stars

History of Science/Science Inquiry:
  • Historical and cultural perspectives on astronomy: star legends of different cultures and countries, including Native American, Germany, ancient Arabic, Polynesian, and Greek tales, mainstream American, British poetry related to astronomy
  • Astronomy as an enjoyable hobby or profession
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