JOLIET – A new dawn has arisen for the Herbert Trackman Planetarium at Joliet Junior College.
The 41-year-old facility is scheduled to unveil its Omnistar digital planetarium at a public showing Tuesday.
The $186,000 projector, paid for through a grant from the Joliet Junior College Foundation, was installed in January. It replaces the old Spitz 512 projector, which has been used since the planetarium opened in 1973. The old projector will be put on display at the Joliet Area Historical Museum.
“The old one was mechanical. The new one is actually a pair of computers,” planetarium director Art Maurer said. “It has a fisheye lens and can put anything on the dome. It does a complete dome show 360 degrees around and up to the top of the dome.”
In addition to the new projector, the planetarium’s sound equipment and lighting have been updated, and its dome cleaned and repainted.
The new equipment can project a variety of prepared shows, Maurer said.
A show on the solar system takes viewers up into space and talks about the sun and planets, and then voyages into deep space to explore the Milky Way and the Andromeda galaxy, Maurer said.
Other programs look at planets that can support life, telescopes, Larry Cat on the Moon (a show for kindergartners) and the astronomer Galileo Galilei. One show even focuses on starfish, and looks at life in the oceans.
Tuesday’s show will be a planetarium standard – seasonal skies, Maurer said. The program starts at 7:30 p.m.
“Anything that’s new and coming up I can work in there,” Maurer said. For instance, Mars, which is now appearing brightly in the evening sky, and the moon, which will undergo a lunar eclipse Tuesday morning.
Shows are free and open to the public. The facility had 1,142 visitors last month, 900 of whom were grade-school students, Maurer said.
“You really have to be on your toes with second-, third- and fourth-graders,” Maurer said. “They do know their astronomy.”
The new projector is controlled by pair of powerful computers, Maurer said. It has the ability to draw data from current satellites to offer a more interactive viewing experience and a wider variety of shows. It can display views of stars from Earth, the Milky Way and beyond.
The projector also can display historic satellite data to show what Earth looked like from space years ago. It can link up with other college planetariums around the world.
“I’m still learning about the equipment,” Maurer said. “There’s a lot you can do with it.”
The planetarium is named after 1931 graduate Herbert Trackman who donated $86,000 in 1988 to upgrade the facility’s computers and add video and crossfading slide projectors.
If You Go
What: Joliet Junior College will debut its new Omnistar Digital Planetarium Projector to the public. Cookies and punch will be available as refreshments.
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Herbert Trackman Planetarium, F Building, Joliet Junior College Main Campus, 1215 Houbolt Road, Joliet