Tlingits saw Pleiades, a constellation in the northern sky known as “The Seven Sisters,” as a sculpin placed in the heavens by Raven. Some western Alaska Natives described the cluster of stars as a “bundle of codfish” and the Inupiats of Barrow saw in the same stars a polar bear hunting scene.

The lore of the heavens, the search for life on other planets, aurora borealis and black holes were topics Tuesday at a special presentation at the Sheldon Museum, where workers with the University of Alaska’s Museum of the North set up a planetarium.

Kris Reeves and husband Kevin were among about 120 residents, including parents with children, who attended. “It was awesome. To tell you the truth, I’ve never been to a planetarium before. I didn’t know what to expect,” Kris Reeves said.

On the museum’s main floor, Chris Cannon and Amy Rath of Fairbanks set up the fabric dome, about 20 feet in diameter, and inflated it with a floor fan. NASA has donated money for the portable planetarium to travel to 64 communities in Alaska in three years.

Once inside, residents saw the path of the sun through the sky in Haines at winter and summer solstices, and the night sky, as seen from Haines Tuesday. Other images included ones of the Milky Way, constellations, other planets, and time-lapse photos of the aurora from a research station near Fairbanks.

Cannon said under President Barack Obama, NASA is looking away from a return to the moon and toward a manned mission to Mars, which is at least 36 million miles from Earth, or 150 times as far from us as the moon. Such a mission could happen in the lifetime of people who are now young children, he said.

With a temperature of 80 degrees below zero, there’s a possibility of finding life there, as snow fleas and other microscopic creatures can survive in those temperatures on Earth, Cannon said. The Mariner 9 rover, sent to Mars to find signs of water on the planet, landed directly on huge chunks of ice, he said.

The moons of Jupiter and Saturn also are candidates for signs of life. NASA bombed the moon to discover ice was beneath the surface, he said.

There are 300 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy, one of which is the sun. The galaxy is disc-shaped and surrounds us but we see it as a band because our view of it is limited by our position on the earth.

There are 88 constellations in the sky and the Big Dipper, part of the larger Ursa Major or “bear” constellation, is always visible in the Alaska sky, which probably accounts for its place on the Alaska flag, Cannon said. Meteor showers, he said, are essentially what we see as Earth moves through the dust of comets.

Cannon’s presentation was an eye-opener for residents. Reeves said she learned there’s a constellation shaped like a giraffe. Scott Doddridge said he was excited to learn aurora activity would be increasing this winter. He said he was surprised by the number of constellations and the definition of the “life” scientists are seeking in outer space.

“I think most people think of beings walking around, but it’s really just single-celled animals,” he said.

Gracie Lambert, 10, found the evening “awesome.” “There were stars everywhere. There’s too many to count in the universe.” Mom Donna Lambert wanted to know why Polaris, the North Star, doesn’t appear to move. Cannon’s answer: It lies very close to where Earth’s axis points.

The planetarium also visited Haines School and was scheduled to make a visit in Klukwan.