An Out of This World Adventure

El Vaquero Staff Writer

Members of the GCC community gazed from reclining seats at stars, planets and solar systems at in the digital planetarium during a show on Feb. 27.?

Co-Directors of the planetarium Dave Hurst, Professor of Chemistry, Dave Davenport, Professor of Chemistry and the planetarium’s technician, Paul Buehler, run this planetarium, which is located in the Cimmarusti Science Center. ?

The planetarium is currently being used for astronomy classes. Students can take notes, sit back and view the planets relative to their sizes, orbits and distances from one another, along with their texture, depth and weather. “Especially noticeable is Mars, with its unique shape and tilt,” Hurst noted. ?

The planetarium houses a dome filled with a “seamless image” of planets, star fields and galaxies, put up onto the screen by six Barco projectors, “each one cover[ing] roughly one-sixth of the area of the dome,” explains Hurst. Each set of projectors produces images from red, green and blue mixtures of color for rich detail similar that of computer screens, said Davenport.?

“In the planetarium we can show any images or video, including the latest images downloaded from the Internet, after first putting them into the format that our system can handle (Bitmaps or Targa files),” said Hurst. ?

The planetarium stays updated with the latest images, whether one wants to see Mars from the point of view of the Spirit Rover or view the birth of a new star. The details are fine; viewers can even see the marks on Mars left by the Spirit Rover as it bounced in order to land. ?
Technology may feel as limitless as the sky as GCC views the sky in a whole new manner through technology much “like that used in gaming cards in computers,” said Davenport. Students can view a real-time 3-D star field — new technology that “will be state of the art for some time,” Davenport said.?

A few of the technological features of the planetarium include adjustable images in the dome that can move in directions so that one can view the southern sky while facing the north. There is also a motion trail feature that can display the trail that stars are moving in (condensing several months of motion into minutes) and in seconds, one can view the sun set into twilight and the evening sky light up with stars.?

This technology also benefits those interested in geography; students can see detailed geography of the Earth, the colors of Africa or patterns of satellites along the highways of America. Even without the technology of telescopes, the audience in the planetarium can be expert astronomers or enthusiastic observers. ?

Audiences can find the general location of their home in the digital model of Earth (no matter what country they are from) — yet still feel a part of something much larger. The planetarium’s 3-D maps displayed the Earth as part of a much bigger system — a solar system that is a part of billions of galaxies in clusters. ?

Another feature is a full-dome video titled “Infinity Express,” which was presented at the end of the planetarium show. Before, one could only see this video in such places as The Smithsonian Institution’s National Air & Space Museum; soon, students may be able to view this video (for free) by being connected to GCC, said Hurst.?

“We are working on scheduling times when the general student population at GCC can come to see a demo,” said Hurst. In addition, they are planning to do outreach from elementary to high school, said Davenport.?

Stargazers may note that in late March, particularly on March 29, all of the planets will be visible, said Hurst. “This means as soon as it gets dark you can see Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.”