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Astronomy building launches new planetarium

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An interactive planetarium was installed in the Astronomy Building in early August. The small room with a domed ceiling uses special cameras to provide representations of the atmosphere.

“The fish-eye lens [of the camera] is what allows the digital projector to distribute the image over the hemispherical dome, rather than the standard rectangular flat screen,” says Professor Peter Martin.

The planetarium provides a 3D representation of the solar system and the entire Milky Way. Showing the motion and structure of galaxies, stars, and planets, the live video shot is highly realistic.

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“The planetarium grew out of our need to enhance the experience of the night sky for our undergraduates,” says Professor Ray Carlberg, explaining that the facility allows for the visualization of concepts that are difficult to demonstrate on a conventional flat screen. The facility is planned to be used for the introduction to astronomy course.

“You can pause, ask questions, show answers, another question comes up,” says Carlburg, who adds that the planetarium will also be used for public tours and is a “valuable instructional opportunity for our graduate students and post doctorates.”

The facility was constructed thanks to a joint effort by the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics and the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics. Funding was received from a variety of sources.

“[The planetarium] was largely funded through a grant from the Curriculum Renewal Initiatives Fund of the Faculty of Arts and Science,” says Carlberg. Funding also came from the Astronomical Society of the Pacific in a grant to graduate student Bryce Croll. The Dunlap Institute also contributed finances.