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Ohio State Planetarium restoration to give audience ‘seamless’ view of the stars

Courtesy of OSU

For Ohio State students, a trip to Mars is only as far away as a walk to the fifth floor of Smith Laboratory.
With the completion of a $600,000 restoration project expected this fall, visitors to the OSU Planetarium will see a lot of changes since it closed June 1.
The Department of Astronomy is planning to install a modern digital projector called the Spitz SciDome XD, which is only the fourth unit sold in the world, along with a new Spitz NanoSeam Dome. The old dome divided the projection into several pieces, but the NanoSeam dome is expected to provide a virtually seamless screen that perpetuates the illusion of looking at the night sky.
Jennifer Johnson, an associate professor of astronomy, said in an email the new screen will provide an ideal backdrop for the new projector. The system also has renderings of the planets’ surfaces and can show viewers the solar system to see moons and comets “up close.”
Nilang Vyas, a third-year in astronomy and astrophysics, visited the planetarium for an introductory astrophysics class but said he thinks most people aren’t aware the university even has one. However, he thinks more people will visit after the technology has been updated.
“I think it’s truly exciting,” Vyas said. “I haven’t actually experienced anything like that before. I’m really looking forward to (the new projector).”
The new SciDome XD will facilitate a collaboration between departments into presentations. Planetarium coordinator and Ph.D. student Kate Grier said in an email that replacing the limited scope of the nearly 50-year-old Spitz A3P projector with the SciDome XD will expand the department’s capabilities, allowing astronomy classes or educational field trips to cover concepts at any level.
The renovations also include reducing light intrusion, improving seats’ neck and back support, replacing the lighting and sound systems, adding carpet, installing digital displays on the exterior and giving the planetarium a general facelift.
While the physical pieces of the renovation process will be in place by late fall, Johnson said the planetarium will not be open for public showings until January.
The new facility will have a capacity of about 60, and have wheelchair-friendly seating. Although the actual planetarium capacity will not be increased, Johnson said she anticipates the number of shows to double.
“We can now create different shows, some that are about the night sky, some about the lives of stars, some about galaxies, the universe, anything,” Grier said. “Astronomy has a unique ability in the sciences to inspire people, and I think that with the new planetarium, we will be able to do just that.”

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