The Next Generation’s Planetarium
Supporters of the David M. Brown Planetarium were invited to “see the future of the planetarium,” yesterday.
Yesterday, supporters of the David M. Brown Planetarium were invited to “see the future of the planetarium” with a demonstration of a state-of-the-art, full-dome digital projector. Several manufacturers offer the digital projectors and over the next few months, they will be invited to the planetarium to show their product.
In her welcoming remarks, Alice Monet, president of Friends of the David M. Brown Planetarium said she was “ecstatic” over the announcement last week by Dr. Patrick Murphy, Superintendent of Arlington Public Schools, that funding for planetarium operations and upgrades, is included in his proposed budget for the coming fiscal year.
“The Superintendent presented his proposed budget for the coming year and he’s included funds for a half-time planetarium teacher,” Monet said.
The Arlington School Board had planned to close the planetarium by June 30, 2010 due to an inability to fund $402,800 for one-time upgrades—seating, dome and projection equipment.
Concerned citizens responded by forming the nonprofit organization, Friends of the Planetarium to save the facility in May of last year; the School Board adopted an interim instructional plan to allow local volunteers a year’s time to raise the funding necessary for the permanent upgrades.
Monet noted that $112,000 still needs to be raised. “We will have all kinds of events and activities, and by doing everything we can—I’m confident we’ll meet our goals by the end of June,” she said.
Many of the volunteers who attended the demonstration have had a personal connection to the Planetarium, including Monet who became “hooked on astronomy” while she was a student at Washington-Lee High School. She has been an astronomer for 34 years and as the president of the group has played a key role in the success of the campaign to save the Planetarium.
Volunteers and supporters were given a preview of the full-dome digital projector, which will enable the staff to use modern digital technology for presentations to students, interactive educational projects and programs for the general public. Digital projectors are available from a number of different manufacturers, but it was fitting that Spitz, Inc. be the first to show their product—Spitz was the company that built the existing equipment and dome in 1969 when the facility first opened its doors.
“The big difference is that currently the planetarium is only able to teach the stars from our perspective on Earth,” said Scott Huggins, director of marketing with Spitz, Inc.. “We’re earthbound in the old one, and with the new theater we can leave the Earth and tour the universe and we can teach from any perspective in space.”
In addition to a virtual voyage through the universe, with the ability to view planets, stars, nebulae and galaxies up close or from many different perspectives—the projector can also be used for teaching other subjects, including geology, meteorology, oceanography and even human physiology.
After the presentation, Anita K. Scott, a member of the Friends of the Planetarium and a retired APS teacher expressed her praise for the demonstration of the “SciDome” digital projector, simply by saying, “Wow.” She added, “It’s gratifying that the interest in the planetarium has remained so strong through the generations.”
It was a sentiment echoed by Preston Caruthers, another supporter of the efforts to save the planetarium: “I’m so concerned about science education teaching in our schools and I was so relieved to learn that the Superintendent is going to ensure that it stays open and it’s improved.”
To learn more or to get involved, www.saveplanetarium.org