The Arne Slettebak Planetarium, located on the fifth floor of Smith Lab, will undergo changes with a new software installment in Nov. Credit: Amal Saeed | Photo Editor

Starting in January, Ohio State students will be able to better experience what John Glenn did without leaving the comfort of the campus.

The Arne Slettebak Planetarium, located on the fifth floor of Smith Laboratory, is getting a new software package in November that will allow for the creation of more varied and entertaining shows to help improve astronomical understanding and wider community outreach. With the current computer system beginning to show its age and being occasionally unreliable, the planetarium is using the necessary upgrade to install equipment far beyond its current capabilities at Ohio State, Wayne Schlingman, planetarium director, said.

The new software — known as Sky-Skan — comes in two distinct parts. The first part, Dark Matter, will allow presenters to adapt visuals to audience responses in real time, flying viewers around the universe on a path dictated not by a script, but by group interest, Schlingman said.

“Fundamentally, [the software] allows us to do storytelling differently,” Schlingman said. “It opens up a whole new realm of learning how to convey information and the communication and the stories that we can tell.”

Updated databases will allow visuals to include things such as the inside of the International Space Station, far-away galaxies and the entire exoplanet catalog containing every planet discovered outside our solar system, giving audiences a better idea of the scale and complexity of our universe, Schlingman said.

“Upgrading this system brings us into the future and allows us to access so much that was not quite accessible [with the current system],” Nikki Justice, a fourth-year in astronomy and astrophysics and undergraduate planetarium presenter, said.

The second part of the package uses a program called MilkDrop to synchronize dramatic visuals to music and create music- and light-based shows to draw crowds that may not be as interested in astronomy, Schlingman said.

“[We will be able to] put a group of people in here and surround them with music. Live music,” Schlingman said. “Not a jazz band you watch, but a jazz band sitting around you. Totally different.”

Schlingman said there are plans to use the music shows as a training tool for new presenters, in hopes of helping a wider variety of people feel comfortable delivering longer, more scripted astronomy-oriented shows.

Though the planetarium will close in November for the upgrades, the staff hope to re-open in January for spring semester classes and debut the new software to the public with a musical show for Ohio State’s 150th-anniversary celebration on March 22.