The "wow" is back at Eastern Kentucky University's Hummel Planetarium.
Recent equipment upgrades have made the 27-year-old facility an even more attractive option for campus uses, for school groups from around the region, and to the public. Grand re-opening ceremonies were held at the planetarium on Thursday, May 21. Featured speakers were State Rep. Rita Smart, Kentucky Commissioner of Tourism Mike Mangeot and Dr. Anthony Blose, chair of EKU's Department of Physics and Astronomy.
"With the capabilities of the current system, the wow factor will probably be even greater than it would have before," said Blose. "That is the first step toward getting a student interested in astronomy and science in general."
In addition to the featured programs, especially of interest to children, the upgrades provide a "sky" for the planetarium. At the conclusion of public shows and some showings for schools, Planetarium Manager James Hughes can now project that evening's night sky, outline and label major constellations and planets, show orbit lines and even take guests on virtual trips to any destination with the click of a computer mouse.
"This allows astronomy classes at EKU as well as school groups and public groups to learn the constellations and better understand the motions we see in the sky, such as day/night and seasons," Blose said. "There are all kinds of effects that the system will provide such as 'fly-ins' to places in the solar system and beyond. This would be possible only with the high caliber professional system that we had installed."
Blose said a "reliable" planetarium sky is an "essential" component of any planetarium, whether a professor is conducting a university class or a K-12 teacher is hoping that certain science standards are covered. "This new system makes it possible to carry out that instruction more effectively."
In fact, Blose argued, the planetarium can be employed in a variety of academic contexts. For example, the Department of Geosciences "would likely be able to use the sky function for planetary geology purposes as well as other things. Outdoor education programs often use the planetarium sky to get an understanding of what they will see on their next field trip."
Hummel Planetarium's new Definiti system utilizes a high-tech array of projectors and computers. Projectors, lenses, Definiti graphics computers, and DigitalSky software work in tandem to maximize image quality and performance, stitching high-resolution video streams into one seamless picture to immerse audiences in a 360-degree environment.
"This makes it possible to see the sky as it would appear from any planet or moon within our solar system, or any point in between," Hughes said. "The full-dome video makes you feel like you're right there."
Additional seating has raised the planetarium's capacity to 194, including more handicapped seating. Outside the viewing room, other improvements have added to the facility's appeal.
The result is an even more valuable resource for the region, said David McFaddin, executive director for government relations and regional stewardship, who welcomed guests to the grand re-opening.
"The new and improved Hummel Planetarium continues to be a major asset for Eastern Kentucky University in helping us reach out to our regional communities and bring educational and recreational experiences to students, teachers and others who take the opportunity to enjoy this exceptional facility and the outstanding programming that is being delivered," McFaddin said. "Our planetarium is one of the best in the country and we look forward to sharing it with everyone we can."
In addition to its shows for schools and other groups, the planetarium recently resumed public programs on Saturdays.
Every Saturday, the Planetarium will present "Perfect Little Planet" for children and families at Noon. Then at 1:30 p.m., the main feature, "Stars: The Powerhouses of the Universe," will be shown.
Admission to either show is $6 for adults, $5.50 for senior citizens and students with ID, $5 for children ages 4-12, and free for children 3 and under. Doors will open 30 minutes before each show, with no late entries allowed.
In "Perfect Little Planet," viewers will take the ultimate space vacation and discover the solar system through a new set of eyes – a family from another star system seeking the perfect vacation spot.
In "Stars," the audience will journey to the furthest reaches of our galaxy and experience both the awesome beauty and destructive power of stars.
"Many summer campers at EKU will also have an opportunity to experience the planetarium as part of the recreational activities associated with their camps," said Jill Price, director of conferencing and events at EKU. "In addition, several conferences held in the adjacent Perkins Building incorporate programs at the planetarium. Private showings may also be scheduled for groups interested in renting the entire facility."
For more information, including a full list of available programs, visit www.planetarium.eku.edu or Hummel Planetarium on Facebook, or call 859-622-1547. New programs are continually added to the lineup.
Hummel Planetarium is located on Kit Carson Drive adjacent to the Perkins Building and across the street from EKU's College of Justice & Safety complex.