CU-Boulder planetarium upgrading to giant-screen theater

By Staff

If you’re a planetarium junkie in the Boulder area, your experience is about to get a major upgrade.

The astrophysical and planetary sciences department, home to Fiske Planetarium, recently announced the launch of a complete upgrade to the projection and other presentation systems that power the planetarium’s big-screen experience. The remodel will turn the dome of the planetarium into an all-encompassing video theater.

“This upgrade will transform Fiske into one of the most sophisticated planetariums and multimedia centers in the country,” said Douglas Duncan, director of Fiske Planetarium. “We will be able to show the universe, and our local neighborhood, in unrivaled detail -- 360 degrees, surround video and sound.”

Since 1975, Fiske Planetarium has provided students and community members an interactive tour of the night sky. The facility’s star projector, known affectionately as “Fritz,” has taught a generation how to find the North Star, constellations and the motions the planets trace in the heavens.

While Fritz heads into a well-deserved retirement, the education experience will move into the digital age. Currently, the star projector can show 6,000 stars and other extra-planetary objects. The new system will have a modern star ball that shows 20 million stars and objects, and now they will even twinkle -- just like the skyscape one might observe on a clear, dark night.

The equipment overhaul also will allow Fiske to feature travel, education, art videos and other programs designed especially for this type of high-end projection system.

“We’ll be projecting video equal to covering the entire dome with close to 40 high-definition TVs,” Duncan said. “The amount of detail will be spectacular, rivaling the best theaters in the country. We expect it to become a major Boulder weekend destination.”

Other upgrades include new LED lighting and a new laser system, which should make the Friday and Saturday night laser shows even more eye grabbing.

The improvements also will yield new opportunities for faculty, staff and students on the Boulder campus. The planetarium expects to expand its student intern staff, already responsible for productions like last year’s successful “Max Goes to the Moon” children’s planetarium show. The dome will be available to researchers for video conferencing, and HD and Ultra HD modeling of their work.

Within the last decade, several of the nation’s major planetariums have undergone similar remodeling projects. The Fiske project will take advantage of lower digital technology prices and innovations in the field to perform similar improvements at one-fifth the cost, according to Duncan.

The remodel project will launch in December 2012 and a grand opening is expected in fall 2013.

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