After a month's closure, the William M. Staerkel Planetarium will reopen to public audiences on the Sept. 7-8 weekend with a new operating system and a new fulldome show.
"Experience the Aurora," featuring fulldome, time-lapse imagery of the Northern Lights, will premiere Sept. 7 and 8 at 8 p.m. and run every Friday and Saturday night through October. The show will be presented on Staerkel's Digistar 6 operating system, an upgrade from the Digistar 4 system installed eight years ago. The planetarium has been closed since Aug. 8 to install the new system.
Winner of two Telly Awards for video production,"Experience the Aurora" shares the science behind the aurora and tells the story of the quest to find and photograph the aurora. Its dramatic images involve high-resolution digital cameras outfitted with fisheye lenses. For the first time, the aurora has been captured as it was meant to be experienced, an immersive display covering the entire sky, according to Dave Leake, director of the planetarium.
"Though computer visualizations are quite wonderful these days, we were intrigued that this show includes fisheye photography of this beautiful phenomenon," Leake remarked. "We hope audiences will be as amazed as we were!"
Leake explained that the Digistar 6 system contains new features that will be both visible and "under the hood." Tools such as auto-align and auto-blend will drastically reduce maintenance time by aligning projectors with the push of a button. Other D6 benefits for planetarium staff include a cloud-sourced STEAM library, a new NOAA Earth database, and a revised user interface. Audiences will be able to view various terrains including Earth and Mars as well as a volumetric Milky Way (i.e., shown more as a physical model than as a flat image).
“We have a lot to learn before we reopen; our show producer, Waylena McCully, is busy converting many of our older shows to the new format," Leake said. "We're exited about having a new star field and other features to show off this season.”
Funding for the upgrade comes from the Parkland Foundation, the Planetarium Revolving Fund and the Campus Master Plan. For a full schedule of fall 2018 planetarium programs, visit parkland.edu/planetarium or call the show hotline at 217/351-2446.