A floor and a half below the surface of Breukelman Science Hall is a large domed room — the Peterson Planetarium. The planetarium has reopened to the public with an upgraded system after two months of remodeling.
“I think the best thing is the capability it gives us to do, not only for educational things for college students, but also to do outreach things for the community and for little kids,” said Richard Sleezer, chair of physical sciences.
Until October 2014, when the planetarium was remodeled, the equipment being used hadn’t been manufactured for over 10 years. The planetarium showed the same two shows for 17 years and the projector would sometimes turn off after 20 minutes and would not turn back on.
The star ball, installed in 1997 after a water line break, remains in the planetarium and is still used today.
“Technology is moving and advancing and we need to, too,” said Susan Aber, director of the Peterson Planetarium.
Aber was allotted $150,000 for the upgrade to the planetarium. The system had to be purchased and video shows leased for 10 years. Aber was able to lease 15 shows from $2,000 to $7,000.
“This facility is an educational, entertainment theater,” Aber said. “And I can’t think of a better way to present a scary topic like science to people in a nonthreatening environment.”
The carnival lights surrounding the dome, similar to the lights on a Ferris Wheel, were replaced with LED lights. The old system, consisting of seven components, was uninstalled and replaced with a new system from Ash Enterprises. The new system is a projector that shines the videos onto a bounce mirror, then hits a hemispherical mirror that projects the movie onto the dome.
“I think it’s great,” said Todd Koelsch, physics graduate student. “The ability to project over the entire dome is amazing and something we are lucky to have at ESU. I hope that the combination of this update and the staff who present the shows will help draw more interest to science from students and the community. Basically, it’s awesome.”
There is now internet access in the planetarium. This will make it possible to watch NASA live TV and talk to astronauts or guest speakers via Skype.
The planetarium seats 38 and is 24 feet across. The top of the dome is over 30 feet tall. In the back corner of the room is a ‘cage’ that houses and protects all of the electronic pieces. Three monitors and countless dials are used to control the star ball and the new projection system. The metal ‘cage’ surrounding the area, covered in hundreds of holes, is in the same pattern as the panels of the dome.
“The benefits are to everyone of every age,” Aber said. “You can be under the stars, you can see the stars, in a climate controlled environment. You don’t have to worry about chiggers, you don’t have to stay up all night, because we can do it anytime during the day.”
Every Thursday night until the end of the semester the planetarium will show just over an hour of historical videos. The planetarium will also show full dome videos every Saturday starting Feb. 14. The shows are free, but donations are welcome.