The Planetarium has undergone many renovations over the last twenty years. Most recently, the third (and last) analog instrument under the original canvas dome was replaced with a state-of-the-art digital, all-dome projection system. This employs a powerful computer to reproduce and display the night sky and things in it. Travel from the surface of the Earth to the most distant reaches of the Universe are now possible, in addition to exciting all-dome feature films.
Each year, thousands of adults and children—as members of school groups, scout groups, and from the general public—attend star talks and other Planetarium shows.
- Each season, the Planetarium offers "The Sky Tonight," a live star talk about the current night sky. Special events are noted, such as comets, meteor showers, eclipses, and current planets, if any. Flights into deep space let us visit other objects of interest.
- Astronomy and space research shows highlight current interests and happenings such as the Hubble Space Telescope, missions to the planets, specific planets, and shows for younger audiences like "Zula Patrol: Under the Weather" and "The Little Star that Could."
How the Planetarium Works
With the completion of the most recent Planetarium renovation, how our system works is considerably different than anytime in the previous fifty years. The Uniview all-dome digital projection system uses a powerful computer to generate interactive images of the night sky and objects in it. Drawing on the Digital Universe Atlas, the image generator of the Uniview system can place the viewer anywhere from the surface of the earth, out to the edge of the known Universe. These are not make-believe journeys, but are based on the most current and accurate data sets available of the known Universe.
Once generated, these images are distorted in a way that makes them look like 3D images when projected onto the dome overhead. With corrected geometry, the sense of motion is very real and you can almost believe that you are flying to another planet or to a distant part of the Universe. Planetary images are based on NASA/JPL planetary images and are highly accurate and realistic. Projection grids, used by astronomers, help to explain complex motions of the sky and objects that we see in it. Phases of the Moon, changes in the seasons, what we see and when, and what the Universe looked like when it was young are all possible.
These immersive films place you at the center of the action, as stars explode around you, and galaxies swirl about. The sense of motion and depth can be overwhelming, exciting, and beautiful.
Future programs will include non-astronomy topics such as the origins of life on earth, chemistry, biology, and other topics. This makes the "Planetarium" an environment for much more than astronomy.