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New video system enhances Planetarium shows

Images projected from the Illinois State University Planetarium new system.

Images projected from the Illinois State University Planetarium's new system.

Each year, the Illinois State University Planetarium introduces thousands of visitors to the wonders of the nighttime skies. Shows throughout the year highlight the planets in our solar system, the well-known constellations as well as comets, asteroids, and meteors. Gazing up at images projected on the Planetarium’s domed ceiling, visitors imagine themselves traveling through space to see celestial bodies up close.

The sensation of space travel has gotten a lot more exciting and realistic, thanks to a new projection system which stretches video to fit across the Planetarium’s dome, providing an enhanced panoramic view. “The system makes a visit to the Planetarium a fully immersive experience and really gives visitors the sense they’re moving among the stars,” said Planetarium Director Tom Willmitch. “The new system also allows us to present the same caliber of shows that the big planetariums like Adler in Chicago are showing.”

The Planetarium’s first show with the new system is Back to the Moon for Good, narrated by actor Tim Allen. The show traces the history of lunar exploration and highlights the current Google Lunar XPRIZE, a $30-million prize offered to the first non-governmental teams to successfully send robotic missions to the moon. The full-dome, high-definition video takes viewers on a visit to the moon, from launch to a walk on the lunar surface.

“You really need to see this show for yourself to fully appreciate how great the new video system is,” said Willmitch. “It’s really hard to do it justice with just words.” Purchase and installation of the projection system was made possible through a grant from Illinois State’s Student Sustainability Fund.

Willmitch said the full-dome projection system also provides an opportunity to produce customized shows in the future. He sees that as a chance to bring together multimedia and technology expertise from across campus to produce shows about astronomy, earth science, biology, art, and a host of other subjects.

Other full-dome video shows are planned for the future and, for the time being, a number of the Planetarium’s older multimedia programs will continue to be shown throughout the year. “Some of the older shows have become real visitor favorites over the years, but they’re becoming a bit dated,” said Willmitch. “It’s also becoming harder to find parts for the older video projection system.”

Willmitch said future enhancements to the Planetarium will include the installation of a museum-quality star projector to replace the aging projector mounted in the center of the Planetarium. Seating will also be re-arranged to enhance viewing of the new full-dome video shows.

Admission to Planetarium shows is $4 for adults, $3 for children ages 5-12 and seniors, and $2 for children ages 3-4. For more information on show schedules, call the Planetarium’s Skyline at (309) 438-5007 or visit the Planetarium’s website.

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