Starting tomorrow, students will be given the chance to fly millions of light-years beyond the Milky Way from a chair in the Exhibit Museum of Natural History on Geddes Avenue.
After two months of renovations, the planetarium will re-open with a new state-of-the-art digital projection system and curved walls to create a more realistic experience for visitors.
Planetarium Director Matt Linke said the planetarium’s old technology was so outdated that the museum struggled to sell it. The museum raised $100,000 to replace it.
The new Uniview system is an improvement over the previous projection system, which used a stationary star ball in the center of the room and slide projectors along the four square walls to cast images of the night sky. The new technology features a single digital projector with a fish-eye lens that fills the 18-foot diameter dome with images of the cosmos.
Linke called the projection system “a very unique presentation tool with applications we haven’t dreamed of yet.”
The switch from projected star charts to a digital sky will give the audience an experience more like piloting a flight simulator than gazing up at the night sky.
Linke said when he hosts shows he has to be careful not to fly through the stars too quickly or the audience will get dizzy. The operator controls the show using a wireless PlayStation controller.
The new software creates accurate three-dimensional models of the planets.
It is now possible to see the details of the Valles Marineris canyon on Mars and fly through Jupiter’s rings.
The planetarium is also the first of its kind to project three-dimensional satellite images of Earth with only a 24-hour delay onto the dome. The University received grants from NASA and NOAA to test this system.
With the new technology, the planetarium isn’t limited to space anymore, either.
It can now display ocean temperatures, carbon dioxide levels and 60 other data sets from across the globe.
Linke said he hopes the planetarium’s additional capabilities will attract more University students. Before the renovation, most of the museum’s visitors were elementary school children on field trips.
“My goal is to find ways that technology can help students and faculty express their studies and research,” Linke said.
The planetarium will host recorded shows and live star talks titled “The Sky Tonight” led by undergraduate employees. Each live show will examines the current night sky and the planets. The 20-minute sessions address topics that vary from the formation of black holes to the mythology of the constellations. Live shows are tailored to the ages and interests of the audience members.
“Star talks are fundamental to our program,” Linke said.
The planetarium opens tomorrow with a recorded show on the formation of black holes narrated by actor Liam Neeson.
In the future, the planetarium will offer shows about topics other than astronomy, Linke said. He said he hopes to show a natural history program about the conditions necessary for life to originate on Earth.
Another presentation will provide a cultural prospective of astronomy focusing on the ancient Egyptians.
The upgrades make it possible to travel throughout the solar system and even leave the galaxy. Audiences are able to travel outside the known universe to see a microwave representation of the Big Bang’s echo.
One new feature outlines the planetary orbits, clarifying why Pluto lost its planetary status last year. The advanced computer-generated graphics demonstrate Pluto’s orbit tilted differently from the other planets’.
Linke said the venue is now an immersive visualization tool that could be used for more than just stargazing.
“We’re excited to see how people respond to it,” he said.
The planetarium, located on Geddes Avenue across from C.C. Little, will have live star talks at 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., and 3:30 p.m. tomorrow and at 1:30 p.m and 3:30 p.m. on Sunday.