Planetarium Renovations Bring the Universe Closer to Home
State-of-the-art renovations made to the campus planetarium open up the possibility of learning across space and time.
The launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957 by the Soviet Union initiated what is now known as the “Space Race” between the American and Soviet space programs. This era spawned a heightened interest in space travel across public universities that resulted in many installing their own planetariums on campus — The College at Brockport was one of them.
“The planetarium was part of the initial construction of Lennon [Hall],” said Chair of the Department of Physics Eric Monier. “The original projector was revolutionary at the time, but it’s now outdated by current technology.”
The College has invested $250,000 into renovating its planetarium, which included new seating, dome lights, program modules, and more. Most of the funds went toward upgrading the opto-mechanical projector to the Spitz SciDome IQ2400 — a digital projector with a fisheye lens that projects an image onto the dome using computer software.
Monier is working with Brockport Central School District physics teacher Matt Sidebotham on utilizing the projector to its full capabilities.
“The old projector was basically a bright light at the center of a sphere with holes drilled into it that recreated constellations,” Sidebotham said. “The simulation of the new projector is much more realistic, allowing us to ‘fly’ to any location and watch cosmic events happen in slow motion, real time, or accelerated time.”
Prior to renovations, the planetarium was mainly used for showings to elementary school students and astronomy labs, but Monier now envisions it will be much more involved in the College’s future.
“This facility has the potential to fulfill at least three of our major goals at the College,” Monier said.
The digital projector and computer software open up the possibility of traveling through space and time. This allows students the ability to view and study once-in-a-lifetime events such as Halley’s Comet — both in the past and the future.
Through its newest modules, the planetarium can be used across majors. Professors can virtually explore wetlands, geographical and historical landmarks, and more locations around the world.
“While we can do a lot more for astronomy courses, we hope the planetarium is eventually used by professors in other sciences and majors,” Monier said.
Monier plans to have monthly showings at the planetarium that are open to the local community. These events can range from exploring the surface of the moon, to traveling through space and time to the center of a black hole. In time, he believes these events can be topical, such as showing the total solar eclipse that will pass directly over Brockport in 2024.
“The planetarium can now help the College be a great place to learn, work, and positively engage with the community,” Monier said.
While the space race ended with Apollo 11 landing the first person on the moon 50 years ago, interest in space travel continues. As SpaceX plans to begin colonizing Mars as early as 2024, a new space race may soon be on the horizon. Because of the renovations, students at the College will be prepared to chime in on the action.