University of Arizona Overhauls Planetarium Projection System

By Andrew Bernier
Published: Monday, September 1, 2014 - 7:39am
Updated: Tuesday, September 2, 2014 - 7:01am
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Photo by Andrew Bernier - KJZZ
The Flandrau Science Center and Planetarium at the University of Arizona
Photo by Andrew Bernier - KJZZ
The original mechanical projector, nicknamed "Hector Vector the Star Projector"
Photo by Andrew Bernier- KJZZ
An image of satellite paths around Earth using the new projection system.

The University of Arizona has installed new technology at their planetarium, looking to further engage the public with current research projects.

The domed screen at the University of Arizona’s Flandrau Science Center is the only planetarium to serve southern Arizona, and has been doing so with the same technology since 1975. This week they plan to unveil a new digital projection system installed this summer, no longer making it your old professor’s planetarium.

The new system uses imaging that is four times as sharp as a standard high definition television. It allows researchers to use the dome screen to project research projects ranging from the static recordings representing the fringes of the known Universe to detailed mapping of synapse connections in the brain. Elliott Cheu, associate dean of the University of Arizona's College of Science, discusses how the college will utilize the new technology.

“People hear the term ‘research’ a lot, and really may not understand what that means" said Cheu. "Well, what it means is getting and collecting data sets, interpreting data sets and communicating those data sets to a broader audience. And here we can show them in a very visual, very engaging way what the science really means.”

The planetarium also receives nearly 40,000 visitors annually, many from low income schools. Executive Director Kellee Ellingson describes how the new technology will go beyond just the visual “wow” factor for visitors.

“We want to be able to take that data, visualize it on the dome and then break it down for them and talk about what is the science behind this," Ellingson said. "What’s the research being done? Why is the research being done? How is this going to impact our lives? Your life? And then help them see that this is happening right here in their community.”

The updated planetarium opens to the public on Friday.

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