Blending Entertainment, Education, and Science in a Modern Digital Planetarium
Students at the University of Arizona have a relatively rare opportunity to learn in a state-of-the-art planetarium. Originally opened as a campus planetarium in 1975, the Flandrau Science Center recently expanded into the digital realm. In 2014 Flandrau’s antique Minolta star projector was joined by a full-dome 4K digital projection system powered by a high performance computer cluster. Currently three science courses are taught in the planetarium for non-science majors — stellar astronomy, astrobiology, and planetary science (taught by SJK).The new digital system allows us to take our classes off the surface of Earth on a journey into the cosmos. Databases from dozens of spacecraft missions and deep-space telescopic surveys are tapped by the software to generate a realistic immersive 3D perspective of the universe, from local planets, satellites and rings to distant stars and galaxies all the way out to the limit of the visible universe. Simple clicks of a mouse allow us to change the orientation, trajectory, and speed of the virtual spacecraft, giving our students diverse views of different phenomena.The challenge with this system is harnessing the entertainment aspect for educational purposes. The visualization capabilities allow us to artificially enhance certain features and time scales. For example, the sizes of Earth and the moon can be enlarged on-the-fly to help demonstrate phases and eclipses. Polar axes and latitude lines can be added to Earth as it orbits the sun to help convey the reasons for seasons. Orbital paths can be highlighted to allow students to more accurately comprehend the population of near-Earth asteroids.These new immersive computer-generated visualization techniques have the potential to enhance comprehension in science education, especially for concepts involving 3D spatial and temporal relationships. Whether or not this potential is being realized will require studies to gauge student learning and retention beyond the short-term semester-long course. This work is just beginning.
Kortenkamp, S. J. (2015). Blending Entertainment, Education, and Science in a Modern Digital Planetarium (Vol. 47, p. 202.04). Presented at the AAS/Division for Planetary Sciences Meeting Abstracts.
Type of Publication
Kortenkamp, Stephen J.
Planetary Science Institute
American Astronomical Society, DPS meeting
Conference Proceeding Type
Nation(s) of Study
United States of America
8-13 November, 2015