Our Island Universe

Friday 8:30am & 2:38pm
  • Hosted by Shanil Virani

Our Island Universe is a 90 second look at new discoveries in our understanding of what lies beyond the horizon and what it means to us here on earth.

Our Island Universe is a partnership between WMRA and James Madison University's John C. Wells Planetarium.

Shanil Virani at the John C. Wells Planetarium

Our Island Universe is hosted by Shanil Virani, Director of the state-of-the-art, hybrid John C. Wells Planetarium and a faculty member in the Department of Physics & Astronomy at James Madison University. Shanil did his graduate work at Yale University where he studied supermassive black holes lurking at the centers of galaxies in the nearby and distant Universe. Prior to Yale, Shanil spent 5+ years at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics as part of the Science Team of the Chandra X-ray Observatory, NASA's flagship space-based X-ray Observatory. In 2009, he was awarded the Chambliss Astronomy Achievement Award medal by the American Astronomical Society for exemplary research. In 2013, he was appointed a Solar System Ambassador by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Solar system ambassadors communicate the excitement of JPL's space exploration missions and information about recent discoveries to people in their local communities. You can find him on Twitter at @shanilv.

The John C. Wells Planetarium at James Madison University is a $2 million, state-of-the-art hybrid facility, the only one of its kind in the world. It hosts both an Evans & Sutherland Digistar 5, an ultra-high resolution digital projection system, and a Goto Chronos opto-mechanical star projector that provides visitors with a superior and realistic night sky. This digital system allows for presentations of unique full dome movies as well as projecting the multi-wavelength universe on the dome. The Goto Chronos starball allows for the projection fo an authentic night sky for any location on the Earth’s surface.

The Planetarium has 72 seats, offers free Saturday public shows, from September thru to the end of June, but is also available for use mid-week by school groups and community groups (i.e., church groups, girl guides/boy scouts, etc.) at no charge by reservation.

Find the John C. Wells Planetarium on Facebook

Follow Shanil Virani on Twitter

Subscribe to podcasts from the John C. Wells Planetarium

Learn more about public science talks hosted by the John C. Wells Planetarium

How Many Planets Are Out There?

May 1, 2015
Wikipedia Creative Commons

  In this episode of Our Island Universe, since the conversation this week has been about the discovery of two more planets around the star HD 7924, we decided to take a look at how many planets are in our galaxy.

Happy 25th Hubble

Apr 24, 2015

In this episode of Our Island Universe, we look back at 25 years of discovery thanks to the Hubble Space Telescope.

What is a Planet?

Apr 17, 2015
Wikipedia Commons

In this episode of Our Island Universe, we take a look at how we define a planet... and how that definition is up for debate as we learn more about our universe.


What is a planet? We live on one, so you’d think someone would have come up a definition that works by now. Earth is a big ball of mostly rock but so is the Moon and it’s not a planet. Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune are planets but they’re not big balls of mostly rock? Any why isn’t little old Pluto a planet any longer?!

The Expanding Universe

Apr 10, 2015

In this episode of Our Island Universe, everything is moving.


Nine years after the “Great Debate” Edwin Hubble discovered that not only are there other galaxies, but they’re also moving away from us! In fact, the further away a galaxy, the faster it is moving away from us! In less than 10 years, we went from the idea that the Milky Way was all there is, too the idea that there are many more galaxies and that they’re speeding away from us! The Expanding Universe was born!

Destination Pluto

Apr 3, 2015
NASA/JHU APL/SwRI/Steve Gribben


In this episode of Our Island Universe, Pluto gets its due.

Learn more about NASA's New Horizons mission to Pluto, arriving in orbit July 14, 2015.


Hello Ceres!

Mar 27, 2015

In this episode of Our Island Universe, we ponder the secrets of Ceres and anticipate the information we'll receive from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft.

The Lost Dark of Night

Mar 20, 2015

In this episode of Our Island Universe, we look at how many stars you can see at night. Thanks to light pollution, you can't see very much.

Learn more about Starry Nights events in your area.

Our Island Universe - What's in a Name

Mar 13, 2015

For our first episode of Our Island Universe, we decided to look at the concept of our universe as an island among many universes. And in a way, explain the name of this new series.