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Eyes On the Skies

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Renovated Planetarium Opens

The star projector
New planetarium seats
Fish-eye view of the planetarium

The Marshall W. Alworth Planetarium has reopened after an extensive renovation. A successful fundraising effort brings new seating to the space. During the month of September, planetarium staff unveil the new science theater with laser shows, full-dome theater presentations and free public shows Wednesdays and Fridays at 7 pm. See the planetarium website for schedule highlights.

The free events include full-dome video, surround sound, and digital lighting. Through Sept. 16, a special laser light system is showing programs for kids and adults for a small fee.

The planetarium is one of UMD's most popular spaces. September started off with a "big bang." During the Labor Day weekend, the planetarium welcomed a record number of visitors with 894 attending. During the 2010-2011 school year, nearly 10,000 people became acquainted with the night skies.

On Friday, Sept. 23 at 7 pm, an Autumnal Equinox Celebration will take viewers on a tour of September’s constellations. The equinox marks the beginning of Fall in the northern hemisphere. At this time the Sun is crossing the celestial equator from the northern half of the sky to the southern half of the sky.

The Marshall W. Alworth Planetarium has had its ups and downs. It opened in 1967, had a director for a time, and was managed by students for a number of years. In 2005 Howard Mooers, professor, Department of Geological Sciences, took the helm and had a new LCD projector installed in the planetarium. “The slide-based projector had to go,” Mooers said. “It was the first upgrade to the planetarium since it’s opening."

In 2010, Mooers and the Swenson College of Science and Engineering faculty and staff launched a fundraiser for new seats. "We raised enough money to cover that cost, as well as a little extra to put to work in other elements of the remodeling,” Mooers said. Electronics, lighting, and controls for the projectors were updated. “It’s all very exciting. Those of us here at the planetarium can’t wait to show people what this new technology can do,” Mooers said.

There was one thing about the original setup that was irreplaceable, however. “The original star projector, in the center of the room, produces night-sky images in a quality that can’t be matched these days, even by a million dollar digital machine. There’s a reason they still make this type of star projector,” Mooers said.

The remodeling process has changed many things in the planetarium, but one thing has remained the same; the passionate individuals who keep it running, rain or shine.

See the planetarium website and schedule highlights.


Written by Zach Lunderberg and Cheryl Reitan. September, 2011

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