YSU planetarium unveils new high-tech, fulldome projection system

Planetarium Engineer Curt Spivey at the controls of the new system.

A new fulldome projection system that features state-of-the-art pixel resolution and surround sound quality and that allows for real-time, on-the-fly visualizations of astronomical objects was unveiled today at the Ward Beecher Planetarium at Youngstown State University.

“The capabilities of this new digital projection systems are nothing short of breathtaking,” said Pat Durrell, professor of Astronomy and director of the planetarium. “It means a completely new educational and entertainment experience for our students and visitors.”

The new technology is in place as the planetarium opens its 2017-18 season on Sept. 22 and 23. Shows are free and open to the public. For more information, including the 2017-18 show schedule, visit www.wbplanetarium.org.

“Even our regular visitors will immediately notice the difference with the new system; it is that impressive,” Planetarium Engineer Curt Spivey said.

The planetarium is marking its 50th anniversary this year. Hundreds of YSU students attend classes at the planetarium every year, and several thousand children from schools throughout the region visit the facility annually.

In 2005, the planetarium was one of the first in Ohio to embrace the new fulldome video technology, allowing for fulldome shows that became an integral part of YSU’s introductory astronomy courses and general public programs. After a dozen years, the system was in need of an upgrade, and the new Definiti 4K system from SkySkan was installed this past summer.

The system uses six computers to power a pair of Sony 4K laser-phosphor projectors to display 4096x4096 pixel display on the planetarium dome, a full 16 times more than the system it replaces. The improvements also include an upgrade to the sound system to 5.1 surround.

The new equipment also allows for rapid access to updated content to keep up with the endless discoveries made in astronomy, such as flying over planetary landscapes, moving through the Milky Way, or viewing the universe on the largest scales. The system also allows for remote access to real-time visualizations.                                   

 “This means that we can use the dome to travel anywhere in the universe in a matter of seconds,” Planetarium Lecturer Tiffany Wolbrecht said.

The new system was paid solely from gifts from the Ward Beecher and Florence Simon Beecher Foundations, the Nathalie and James Andrews Foundation, and from Warren and Sandy Young. “We are very thankful for the enormous support we have received,” Durrell said. “These gifts are a testament to their incredible support for science education at YSU.”