Experience the Universe: New system rejuvenates Taylor Planetarium

A dazzling array of colors greeted visitors as they walked into the newly remodeled Taylor Planetarium. Photo by Matt Williams.
A dazzling array of colors greeted visitors as they walked into the newly remodeled Taylor Planetarium. Photo by Matt Williams.

Museum of the Rockies (MOR) visitors will experience the cosmos in vivid color, motion and display in the newly renovated Taylor Planetarium upon the theater’s public opening on Saturday, March 2.

The culmination of a five-month construction period, the improved planetarium — used at the MOR for educational purposes by showing programs related to planets and the night sky — now boasts some of the world’s most advanced technologies in the form of a Digistar 5 projection system.

Released in August, the Digistar 5 system expands the opportunities for what can be done in the theater, said Planetarium Program Manager Eric Loberg. He gave examples such as multilingual use, incorporation of joysticks and the utilization of the Kinect motion-sensing system.

Additionally, a new, informative waiting area features a replica of the HRBE satellite MSU students created and launched into orbit on Oct. 28, 2011. New blue-and-gold seats were installed in the theater as well.

Before the upgrade, the theater ran on an older analogue system and relied on slide projections to show many of the programs. When the theater first opened in 1989, it used Digistar 1, and in 2001 a Digistar 2 projector was installed, Loberg said. In 2003, producers stopped creating slide programs, he added, so the upgrade was necessary in order to show current information.

MOR Executive Director Shelley McKamey said, “To show outdated programing [in the planetarium] was not acceptable,” and was enthusiastic about the changes made to the theater to make it a more exciting and educational tool.

The MSU campus and research groups will be directly impacted by the renovations, she explained, referencing the solar physics research group on campus as an example. Using the new system, this group will be able to project images of the sun on the 40-by-40-foot planetarium dome, allowing them to see details they may not have seen otherwise on a standard computer screen.

ASMSU senators were invited to the first private viewing of the new planetarium on Tuesday,  Feb. 26 as a thank you from the museum for their $1,000 gift which kick-started the Building Bigger Skies fundraising campaign. After making the request at a student senate meeting, the senate granted MOR this gift.

Funding also came from other parts of MSU, McKamey said. The Budget Council gave $45,000 last year, and Dr. Thomas McCoy, Vice President for Research, Creativity and Technology Transfer, presented MOR with $10,000. MOR donors, patrons and members contributed the remaining funds to support the $1.5 million remodel.

After closing for construction last September, the planetarium opened for the first private viewing Tuesday, and tonight donors are invited to attend the program. The museum invites its members to come Friday, March 1 for a special preview, and the following day the planetarium opens to the public. Theater admission is included with admittance to the museum. With a valid MSU ID, students get in for $9, while adult admission is $13.

For a schedule of the Taylor Planetarium’s showings, visit http://bit.ly/VMwigH.