The Northerner | Haile Planetarium reopens after two years of upgrade

Inside the Haile Digital Planetarium, an unassuming room tucked into a fourth-floor corner of the science center, a domed screen hangs from the ceiling like a massive eye. Three spotlights cling to its edge, combining red, green and blue light into colors on the screen. When the lights go out, plunging the room into darkness, the eye becomes a virtual portal to the stars. But those skies had been dark since November 2019 — until now.

After two years of repairs and upgrades, the planetarium reopened to the public on March 17 and 19. It stopped working after the power supply to one of the projectors failed and no replacement could be found, according to planetarium manager Christa Speights. The current system is simpler, using only three computers to operate the projectors instead of 10 as before.

With the new system in place, the Planetarium is once again able to project a full sky map of constellations and immersive videos of planets, stars, galaxies and the cosmos, as well as topics outside of astronomy. Stellar Lunch Break screenings on March 17 played 20 minutes of classical music by various composers, accompanied by visuals of not only the universe but also paintings, landscapes and the canals of Venice.

The upgrade also comes with new features. On a public grand reopening day on March 19, Speights showed the public how to play “Dome Invasion,” a video game that uses 360 degrees of the dome screen. The effects are not only limited to the new programming, but also extend to the visual aspect.

“Before [the old projector] broke, I loved being able to come here and play with this stuff,” said Alfie Scott, a sociology student who works at the Planetarium. “But the difference is amazing. The colors are much brighter and smoother.

Scott started as a volunteer for the Planetarium and later asked Speights to be an employee. Having been at the Planetarium since first year, she mostly talks about the mythology behind the constellations.

Scott’s biggest challenge is remembering everything since she hasn’t been to the Planetarium in two years, but she’s excited to be back at work.

Public reception was also good according to Speights. 49 people registered for the Stellar Lunch Break and 260 for the Grand Reopening, including students and families with children.

“It was really cool. It was really educational,” said Brady Wurtz, one of the attendees at the grand reopening. His family’s favorite part was the black hole visuals in the new video “Unveiling the Invisible Universe “. They would return for future screenings, they added.

Starting March 25, the Planetarium will offer educational programming for preschool and elementary school children at 6 p.m. and general public programming at 7:30 p.m. every Friday. The latter will include interactive constellations and a half-hour video.

Staff are in the process of finding a portable planetarium that could allow them to produce shows on the road, Speights said. She is also considering buying a system for laser light shows, which would be for entertainment only.

“All of our educational programming is free and we are committed to keeping it free. Our entertainment shows, I don’t mind billing,” Speights said. “I can have a source of income and hire more students. We can go to another level. »

Scott looks forward to more people attending the Planetarium shows. “Most people don’t know the Planetarium exists, but with the reopening, hopefully the attention will get more people to see the shows because they are great shows,” she said.

For more information on the Haile Digital Planetarium and its programs, visit planetarium.nku.edu.

Arline J. Mercier