The Role of the Modern Planetarium as an Effective Tool in Astronomy Education and Public Outreach
As the planetarium approaches its 100th anniversary, today's planetarium educator must reflect on the role of such technology in contemporary astronomy education and outreach. The projection planetarium saw "first light" in 1923 at the Carl Zeiss factory in Jena, Germany. During the 20th century, the concept of a star projector beneath a dome flourished as an extraordinary device for the teaching of astronomy. The evolution of digital technology over the past twenty years has dramatically changed the perception / utilization of the planetarium. The vast majority of modern star theaters have shifted entirely to fulldome digital projection systems, abandoning the once ubiquitous electromechanical star projector altogether. These systems have evolved into ultra-high resolution theaters, capable of projecting imagery, videos, and any web-based media onto the dome. Such capability has rendered the planetarium as a multi-disciplinary tool, broadening its educational appeal to a wide variety of fields -- including life sciences, the humanities, and even entertainment venues. However, we suggest that what is at the heart of the planetarium appeal is having a theater adept at projecting a beautiful / accurate star-field. To this end, our facility chose to keep / maintain its aging Zeiss V star projector while adding fulldome digital capability. Such a hybrid approach provides an excellent compromise between presenting state of the art multimedia while at the same time maintaining the ability to render a stunning night sky. In addition, our facility maintains two portable StarLab planetariums for outreach purposes, one unit with a classic electromechanical star projector and the other having a relatively inexpensive fulldome projection system. With a combination of these technologies, it is possible for the planetarium to be an effective tool for astronomical education / outreach well into the 21st century.
Albin, E. F. (2016). The Role of the Modern Planetarium as an Effective Tool in Astronomy Education and Public Outreach. In American Astronomical Society Meeting Abstracts 227.