From 'Oh No' to 'Oh Boy!'
Renovated Planetarium Offers Quite a Show
Characterizing it as an astronomical challenge may be a bit of a stretch, but operating the John C. Wells Planetarium before its $1.3 million renovation in 2007 was anything but easy.
Fixing the broken parts was not possible in a lot of cases because the parts of the 1970s-era system had become obsolete. Now running a state-of-the art hybrid projection system, those concerns seem light years in the past. When the planetarium reopened in September 2008, it offered visitors a total-immersion-in-space-experience available at only three other planetariums in the United States.
"We're one of the few planetariums in the world with a digital movie capability and a GOTO Cronus star ball that allows us to project an authentic view of what the night sky would look like on any given day at any given location on the earth," said planetarium director Shanil Virani.
While the hybrid system is different than IMAX technology, which some visitors have compared it to, the new GOTO Chronos instrument and Digistar 3 projection system can provide some eye-opening effects along with some advanced teaching tools. "We can account for light pollution, so what I normally do, I bring up the star ball with full light pollution and people recognize the familiar constellations and that's what they're used to seeing," Virani said. "When we remove the light pollution, that's the first 'ooh, ah' moment. Everytime."
A few JMU classes are taught in the planetarium, but Virani said he keeps it open as much as possible for the general public.
Public shows are provided free of charge on Saturdays throughout the JMU school year. School groups, and others, can schedule visits at other times by calling 540-568-4071 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The planetarium has nearly 20 full-dome shows in its inventory and each show is followed by a star talk about what people can see in the night sky in the Harrisonburg area.