Tag Archives: planetarium

Pink Floyd is Back! Well . . . Sort of . . .

laser_posterThe William M. Staerkel Planetarium, being a science facility, is going to try an experiment: On the weekend of February 19/20 and again February 26/27, we will offer laser shows in the dome at 9:30 and 10:30pm.

The cost is $8 per person per show, with all tickets being sold at the door. You can find a full lineup of programming if you check out the planetarium website.

Now. some folks may dispute this fact, but this is the first time laser shows have been offered to the public beneath Staerkel’s dome. We’ve come close to it before: Back in 1990, members of the Parkland Astronomy Club met to discuss new projects, and someone mentioned doing a musical show at the planetarium as a fundraiser. We chose Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon as the classic soundtrack for the new show. The planetarium staff proposed creating it as a laser show, but the college refused the request, so club members began looking for different ways to depict the show visually.

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Chuck Greenwood and Dave Leake develop the first light show.

Developing the First Light Show
One of the items we looked at were light beams. At that time, the planetarium sported 70 computer-controlled slide projectors. By placing a few holes at the bottom of a 35mm slide frame that’s all dark and then putting it through a projector, light would only come out through those holes. Then, with chemical fog in the room, you could see the beams. Turning on several projectors at once made it look like we had a multiple-projector laser system! This was evident during the opening of the song Time, where the clock’s tick-tocks were synced visually using one slide in each panorama projector and only one dot in the corner of each frame. By cross-fading the dots back and forth, we had beams crisscrossing in time to the music.

Our Carl Zeiss star projector looked great in the fog, too. As we spun the machine on its three axes (diurnal, latitude, and precession), you could see all the star beams as they left the machine and headed for the dome, again appearing like laser beams (though they weren’t). The original show’s creator, Chuck Greenwood, used a special projector called a “revealer” to perform a classic prism effect as well. Using a motor, he pulled an occulting frame across the focal plane of the projector, basically revealing from right to left whatever image is placed in the projector. So one regular slide projector projected the prism and the revealer allowed the image of a light beam to appear to enter the prism and split into the classic spectrum. We had to align this effect before every show, mounting the revealer upside down so as to display the image with the correct orientation.

2010 reunionOur Premiere Weekend was Hot…in More Ways than One!
Oddly enough, our light show debut was supposed to have a laser in it! Chuck had bought a laser and built the effects to go with it for the show. It failed literally right before our premiere, so we scrambled to put a short section of film in that spot. That section of film worked so well, it stayed in the show all the way to 2010!

On our opening weekend in May 1990, we sold out all four shows! We even had some “special guests” attend our late show one evening. During the spinning of the Zeiss in one song, we had strobes go off, which was an awesome effect. I told Chuck at the time that those looked really cool. He replied that he didn’t do those! It was the fire alarm! The fog had evidently become too thick, which had set off the alarm. Then we had to convince the audience that this was real.  I don’t think the fire department was all that happy to see why they had been summoned.

(Chuck later presented a paper at a regional conference titled “Laser Shows Without Lasers.” It raised a few eyebrows since no one was doing anything like this.)

End of the Light Show Run
Unfortunately, we had to stop doing our light shows (we never advertised them as laser shows) in 2010 when the Staerkel Planetarium went digital. We had to remove all the former slide projectors from the dome, thus making it impossible to do the lightbeam effects. The last light show we did was naturally Dark Side. I had tears in my eyes performing it for the last time. And Chuck flew all the way from Florida to attend the last show. I still have one of the 1990 posters framed in my basement. It had been quite a 20-year run!

Of course, our new Digistar 4 system is phenomenal. We can do so many more things with it than we could with slide projectors … but it won’t play the old shows.

Pink Floyd…Again!
Nearly six years later, I still get asked probably twice a week, “Hey, when are you going to do Floyd again?” The interest that remains for those shows is amazing. This brings us to the last two weekends of February 2016. With the help of Audio Visual Imagineering, we will be renting a laser system for these weekends. And on February 19, night number one of four, I’m insisting on a “Pink Floyd Night.” It will be Dark Side followed by The Wall. True, it won’t be the same show, but it will be nice to hear that classic lineup of songs in the dome, once again. I hope you’ll enjoy it with us!

[Dave Leake is director of the William M. Staerkel Planetarium.]

Catch the Harvest Moon Eclipse This Weekend

The skies should be great for viewing the “harvest Moon” that will pass into the shadow of the Earth, resulting in a total lunar eclipse, this Sunday evening (September 27).

If you want to view the eclipse more closely, stop by the William M. Staerkel Planetarium at Parkland College, beginning at 8 p.m. The CU Astronomical Society will have telescopes set up outside in the bus drop-off drive. Park in the M-1 lot and walk over.

Unlike their solar counterparts, lunar eclipses are very safe to observe. It is just like looking at a full Moon in the sky, but it will appear as if something is taking a bite out of the Moon! If skies are clear, anyone in the Midwest should be able to see the eclipse from their backyard.

The Moon will begin to enter the dark part of the Earth’s shadow at 8:07 p.m. The Moon will be completely inside the Earth’s shadow by 9:11 p.m. and will begin to emerge from the shadow by 10:23 p.m. The full Moon will appear back in the night sky by 11:27 p.m.

This full Moon will be closest to the autumn equinox, traditionally called the “harvest Moon,” with an eclipse midpoint occurring just 59 minutes after the Moon’s closest approach to the Earth, also called “perigee.” Some have called a full Moon near perigee a “supermoon.”

There are two things to look for while you’re watching this eclipse. The first is the curved shadow of the Earth. In ancient times, this was evidence that the Earth was, in fact, round and not flat. Second, after the eclipse is well underway, look for a reddish tint on the Moon. The red is from sunlight that bends through the Earth’s atmosphere. The blue is scattered out, which is why we have blue skies, leaving the red part of the spectrum to strike the Moon.

The next total lunar eclipse easily visible from central Illinois won’t be until January 2019, so I hope you get a chance to catch this one! (If the weather isn’t perfect, call the CUAS hotline at 217/351-2567 to see if the observing event at the planetarium is still occurring.)

A ‘Celestial’ Find for Harpist, Staerkel Director

The Staerkel Planetarium offered its first light show (featuring the music of Pink Floyd) in 1991. In the years since, other shows have graced the dome, and we’ve done a few live musical acts, too. We had the entire Bowdacious String Band in the dome, plus a guitar trio, a four-piece rock band, and even a laptop orchestra.

However, several years ago, Parkland’s Grants and Contracts Manager Josh Birky approached me about doing something different with our shows, something more classical. I thought, “That’s not a bad idea—maybe something more ‘out of the box,’ as they say.”

I contacted a few colleagues in Fine and Applied Arts and eventually made my way to the University of Illinois’ School of Music in search of a harpist. The first harpist wasn’t available, but she suggested doctoral student musician Ann McLaughlin. Ann and I exchanged a few emails after that. She was also interested in doing something new and different and was excited about the idea of her music being backed by visuals in a theatrical setting.

Ann and I didn’t meet until our first rehearsal in the dome. She immediately struck me as very outgoing, passionate about her craft, and interested in “pushing the envelope.”

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Ann McLaughlin. Photo by Bernard Wolff.

We did our first show in late January 2013 and, much to my surprise, we sold the place out! And, in my standard pre-show introduction, I discovered that a little less than half the crowd had never been in the planetarium before!

Shows like these are challenging, as I had to run the visuals live (nothing could really be programmed) and Ann had to learn how to play in nearly full darkness. I set up two spotlights to illuminate Ann so it wouldn’t be quite as dark and, besides, since she is the “star” of the show, people should see her. We also had to run a couple of microphones (one floor-mounted and the other on a boom) so the harp played through our sound system. Our production designer Waylena McCully set up a screen in our digital system for special effects, with some of the clips she created herself.

Since that first program, Ann has performed in our planetarium a couple of times, one being a wedding in which the bridal party hired her to play. More recently, Ann performed a song at the Illinois state meeting of the Great Lakes Planetarium Association. The intent of this performance was twofold. First, we demonstrated what one could do with live music in a planetarium and, second, it got Ann’s name out there.

Now, as Ann finishes her doctoral degree, she will be leaving the area. But, before leaving, she has set up a “planetarium tour,“ with harp dates at the Peoria Riverfront Museum and the Illinois State University Planetarium. She’ll kick off her tour with a return to our dome on September 18 at 8:30 p.m. and then a special matinee on Saturday, September 19, at 2 p.m. Tickets are $5 per person, all sold at the door.

I’ll admit that I don’t have a crate of records at home of harp music, but Ann opened my eyes to a new style, a new sound. Some of the things she does on the harp are amazing! And I’d like to think that we showed Ann another venue for her creativity. I’m looking forward to her last shows beneath the stars. I hope you’ll join us for these special performances!