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It took NASA’s Curiosity Rover eight and a half months to reach Mars from Earth in 2012. At CU Boulder’s Fiske Planetarium, students and the public are able to reach the planet in mere seconds.
After completion of its first technological remodel since opening in 1975, Fiske will reopen to stargazers Oct. 12.
The remodel features a new projection system, called “Megastar,” capable of displaying over 20 million stars. It replaced “Fritz,” the 40-year-old projection system that could display around 6,000 stars.
According to Douglas Duncan, director of Fiske Planetarium, the new system allows patrons some control in navigating stars and planets.
“You just come in, and we turn on the sky,” Duncan said. “Somebody says, ‘Well, I want to go to Mars,’ and you just drive to Mars. When you get there it looks like Mars, and when you get close you can see even more details about Mars.”
In addition to the projector, Fiske also added a new high-resolution dome screen that allows visitors to explore more than just outer space.
“So, in the past we were all about stars, planets and galaxies,” Duncan said. “Now we can take you through the grand canyon, down to the bottom of the ocean and amidst glaciers… It’s really very much more like IMAX, an immersive theater.”
Duncan added that the upgrade will allow the planetarium to become more interdisciplinary, opening up to students outside the astronomy department.
“I’m really hoping people will get inspired to create… if you are a digital artist, this is the biggest canvas you could have,” Duncan said. “That is the message: It is not just about astronomy anymore.”
Interns at the Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences make productions for the planetarium, while getting experience with some of the most advanced computers on campus.
“All of the videos that you will be seeing at opening were created by students,” Duncan said. “They are working for us, everything they create, some of which is really stunning, goes into their portfolio and helps them get jobs.”
Students also produce popular laser-light shows on Friday and Saturday nights. Francisco “Tito” Salas, operations manager and programs director at Fiske, said ticket sales to planetarium events and others open to the public are a large part of the Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences’ funding.
“That’s why the Department and CU gave us the option to open it up to the public,” Salas said. “I think that it was the right choice. Why have such a world class facility just to use it only for CU—open it up to everybody.”
The Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences and Fiske also work with the Boulder Valley School District. “We have roughly 30,000 school kids visit each year,” Duncan said. “We get to interact with the students and teachers and they get to interact with us… We all love that.”
Contact CU Independent Guest Writer Halie Noble at Halie.firstname.lastname@example.org.