The past year was an exciting one for the Casper Planetarium. Starting in January 2017 preparations began for the once in a lifetime celestial event, the total solar eclipse. Lobby exhibits were changed, a new program ran in the planetarium theatre, and the staff presented educational outreach to various groups in a wide variety of locations. Excitement began to build. The week before the eclipse was understandably frantic. Astro-Con was in town and talk of the eclipse reached a fever pitch. Eclipse glasses flew off the shelves as people readied for an influx of family and friends from out of town. Attendance at the planetarium soared as people who had not been to the planetarium since they were children brought their children and in some cases grandchildren to learn more. Over the course of five days over 1000 people visited the planetarium.
The day of the eclipse was nearly as perfect as one could ask. The moon began to creep in front of the face of the sun, slowly moving its way along until finally in a flash the diamond ring appeared followed by the eerie glow of totality. For two and a half minutes people stared into the sky, awestruck by the rare and beautiful event. Then, as suddenly as it began, it ended. Totality was over and the moon slowly moved away from the disk of the sun. People returned to their homes and within a week life in Casper and at the planetarium returned to normal.
The solar eclipse was a milestone in the history of the Casper Planetarium. Yet the planetarium has seen many milestones in its 52 year history. In 2012 there was a partial solar eclipse as well as an extremely rare transit of Venus. Transits, when the planets Mercury or Venus pass in front of the face of the sun are extremely rare and transits of Venus only occur once every 105 to 121 years.
A transit of Mercury occured in 2006. During both these transits and the partial eclipse, the planetarium was open to the public and had telescopes set up on the lawn for observing. In 2003 Mars was closer to Earth than at any other time in the past 60,000 years. That event drew record breaking crowds to the planetarium to see a show about Mars and peer through a telescope. In a single night almost 600 people attended the show.
Celestial events are not the only monumental events to occur at the planetarium. In 2007, the Casper Planetarium’s original Spitz optical-mechanical star machine was replaced by the Konica-Minolta Mediaglobe II digital system. The planetarium would now show the same features as larger planetariums such as the Gates Planetarium in Denver or the Clark Planetarium in Salt Lake City. The upgrade to a digital planetarium occurred just one year after the Casper Planetarium’s 40th birthday.
As the year 2018 dawns another exciting change is in store. The planetarium is preparing for an upgrade to its projection system. This upgrade will bring a brighter, higher resolution projector to the planetarium dome. A new projector will mean brighter stars, richer colors and sharper details. In addition, the newest version of the planetarium’s sky software Uniview will be installed along with the new projector. This amazing software allows the planetarium presenter to present audiences with beautiful views of the night sky, but that’s not all. The software also allows us to jump off the surface of the Earth and fly to anywhere in the solar system, the galaxy or even the entire universe. The upgrade of the planetarium projector and software will occur in late February 2018.
A planetarium is a unique venue for studying the wonders of the universe. As with all forms of technology, planetariums must constantly evolve to meet the needs of their audiences. March of this year will see the latest change of the Casper Planetarium. We will have a new projection system, new software, new shows and new lobby displays. The changes may not be as cool as the total solar eclipse, but they will keep the imagination fired for years to come.