High-tech facility reopened
LAFAYETTE — The stars shine a bit brighter at the Lafayette Science Museum’s Planetarium thanks to recent renovations including new $500,000 digital technology.
The renovated planetarium reopened to visitors Tuesday.
One change replaced the planetarium’s 42-year-old equipment, including the “star machine” that projected constellations onto the overhead viewing dome. Gone, too, are the 35 to 60 projectors that created the night sky and other celestial programs.
“Previously, the planetarium projector didn’t have anything on it that Galileo would not recognize,” said Dave Hostetter, planetarium curator. “Everything since the invention of the telescope, we’d use slides and video to show.”
Some of the projectors were low-tech and hand-made out of Pepsi bottles and baby food containers, Hostetter said.
That creative ingenuity is now replaced by six video projectors and sophisticated Sky-Skan software operated by multiple computers housed behind the scenes.
The old programs were written using lines of simple computer codes and were controlled remotely with a less-than-sophisticated device.
“We used a garage door opener to go line by line in a program,” Hostetter said.
Now, each planetarium show can be operated by an iPad.
The planetarium closed in January for renovations, which included new paint for the dome where images are projected and the addition of seats that expanded capacity from 72 to 80.
Training on the new equipment began in April, and the staff is still learning the complex coding program, Hostetter said.
The digital upgrade affords visitors more dynamic images and makes it easier to develop new programs for audiences, he said.
One of the planetarium’s standing programs is “The Sky Tonight,” which gives visitors a preview of that night’s sky and identifies constellations.
In the past, the program guide typically used a laser pointer to connect the dots of a constellation.
While the pointer tool is still used, with a tap on the iPad all lines are connected and displayed overhead for the viewer. With another tap, the constellations’ namesakes also take shape in the night sky.
As part of another program, visitors can take a trip to space and visit the International Space Station.
“We can fly around the Space Station,” Hostetter said. “These are things that you can’t do with the projectors.”
The planetarium’s programs now include educational video shows such as “We Are Astronomers,” which offers a tour of observatories across the world, and the children’s program “The Little Star That Could.”
Museum director Kevin Krantz said he anticipates that the new technology will help boost attendance at the museum and planetarium.
The museum recently opened a Civil War weapons and artifacts exhibit commemorating the state’s bicentennial.
“I predict that the upgrades will have a significant impact on our attendance because those who enjoyed our planetarium show before, they will be amazed by the difference between what we had before and what we have now,” Krantz said. “It adds to the overall value of the museum.”
For more information about the planetarium and its showtimes, visit http://www.lafayettesciencemuseum.org.