The renovations of CU’s Fiske Planetarium cut off astronomy students from a valuable learning tool this semester, but the technological updates will bring the planetarium experience into the 21st century for students and community members.
According to Matt Benjamin, the academic services manager at Fiske, the advancements in astronomy required a more dynamic approach to teaching that the current 40-year-old set-up can’t provide.
“Our starball, our star projector, which we affectionately call Fritz, it’s on its last legs,” Benjamin said. “We quickly were able to identify that there were some parts…that if they failed, everything would shut down.”
According to Benjamin, the updates come at a time when the needed technology is at its peak, but is still cost effective. He said that the updates would have cost $10 million for less advanced technology compared to the $2 million renovations taking place today.
“Over the last 10 years, this technology has finally matured to where we at Fiske felt it was a worthwhile investment for the university to make,” Benjamin said. “We felt the time was right to do it now, and the university agreed with us.”
The behemoth star projector, Fritz, will be replaced with a high definition star projector the size of a beach ball. Because of the high resolution of the new projector, visitors will be able to see not only the 6,000 stars seen with the naked eye on the screen, but the 20 million stars across the universe with special binoculars, according to Benjamin.
“It’s like R2D2 on steroids,” Benjamin said.
Due to the finite detail of the new projector, the current projection screen will be torn out. Benjamin said that some of the stars are so small and distant, the light projected would pass through the holes in the screen and not be seen.
The old slide machine will be traded for six new projectors with a resolution of 8000 dpi (dots per inch), compared to the standard HD television 1080 dpi resolution. Each projector requires four computer servers in order to project 8000 dpi. To support the new technology, a new console and projectors will be installed, as well.
Although the advancements will be useful for both astronomy students and the general population, it has been a set back for students currently taking astronomy. Nick Schneider, associate professor of astrophysical and planetary sciences, is currently teaching Introductory Astronomy 1. His main method of visualization for students is Skygazer software, but it doesn’t convey the same experience.
“We’ve resorted to using software to show the sky on the flat screen in the classroom,” Schneider said. “It’s a very poor substitute for the immersion that everyone experiences in the planetarium, but it’s mathematically accurate and I’ve been able to demonstrate the same phenomena.”
Despite hindering some students’ experience with astronomy, the renovations haven’t conflicted too much with the astronomy teaching process.
“We always teach the first part [of astronomy class] with a combination of what we see in the sky versus what we see from the outside,” Schneider said. “So we use the globe and the light bulb and the hula hoop [for visualization]. So Fiske was just part of the experience.”
Senior instructor of astrophysics and planetary sciences Seth Hornstein noted that the renovations are positive in the short run because he has had more class time to go deeper into certain subjects.
“This semester I’ve been going into other things into a little more detail than would be covered in Fiske,” Hornstein said. “In one case, the show that I normally do at Fiske is just a modification of a previous lecture that I used to give, so I can go back to that previous lecture.”
Although students don’t have access to Fiske this semester, Hornstein sees that as “the cost of progress.”
“We always have the students in mind when we’re [making renovations],” Hornstein said. “We took into account, when can we do this to have the least impact?”
“We wanted it to be something that students would have access to,” Hornstein said. “We wanted students to realize this is something they’re getting at CU that they might not get anywhere else. We’re going to be on par with professional, public-driven planetaria, so the fact that it’s on a college campus is a great opportunity for students.”
According to Matt Benjamin, Fiske is targeted to reopen in September or Early October.
For weekly updates on Fiske Planetarium’s renovation, visit http://fiske.colorado.edu.
Contact CU Independent News Budget Editor Avalon Jacka at Avalon.email@example.com.