Tag Archives: The Stargazer

“The Stargazer” Returns to the Dome . . . Sort Of

A “new, old” planetarium show returns to the dome of the William M. Staerkel Planetarium for the first time. Granted, this sentence doesn’t make much sense, but maybe a little history is in order, as the background for the show actually begins with our planetarium.

stargazer
The Stargazer

Dr. James B. Kaler is professor of astronomy at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Now retired, Kaler has published over 120 papers and over a dozen popular books all concerning his first love—the sky. His appearances on television, in lecture halls, and in our planetarium dome for our “World of Science” lecture series make him a community icon when it comes to skywatching.

The Great Lakes Planetarium Association (GLPA) is the largest of seven regional organizations in the country. Members from the Big Ten states meet annually in the fall to exchange ideas, sample the latest technology, and see the newest shows.

Kaler was introduced to GLPA when he was asked to give a talk by then director David Linton when Parkland College hosted the conference in 1989. Jim gave the first Astronomy Update talk, a summary of the astronomical discoveries from the previous year. Little did he know that he’d be asked to give the update for the next 19 years thereafter! It is now an annual conference tradition.

In 1999, Kaler was GLPA’s Spitz Banquet speaker. His talk was so inspiring that two planetarians, Dave DeRemer from Waukesha, Wisconsin, and Bob Bonadurer, who then was working in Minneapolis, decided to build a show around it. They applied for and received a NASA IDEAS grant to produce the show in 2001, and The Stargazer premiered to delegates at the 2002 GLPA conference in Menasha, Wisconsin using 120 35mm slides. Does anyone remember slide projectors? The show was distributed as a slide set for a short time and then included digital images not long after that.

Thanks to a team led by Ken Murphy at Southwest Minnesota State University and funding from GLPA, The Stargazer is now available as a fulldome show using the latest technology in the field. Initially we thought Ken would merely digitize the images from the show and render it out as a fulldome production, but he has completely re-envisioned the program, with different scenes not included in the original program.

Kaler himself and Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura from the original Star Trek) narrate this personal look at skywatching. The show begins with a child’s curiosity, moves on to the science of gravity, light, the spectrum, and how they help us decipher the lifestyles of the stars. This is the best treatment of the Hertzsprung-Russell Diagram (central to stellar astronomy) I’ve ever seen in any planetarium program! The show ends with reflections on the deeper meanings of astronomy in our own lives. The 37-minute program is aimed at 4th grade and up but it also serves as a wonderful public show.

The Staerkel Planetarium will open The Stargazer in our 8 pm time slot beginning January 20.

There are many aspects of this “new, old” show that involve the Staerkel Planetarium:

  • First, as A/V curator for GLPA, I am in charge of distributing the show to planetariums who want to purchase it for their own facility.
  • Second, part of the video included in the show was shot in the Staerkel Planetarium dome. See if you can see our Zeiss star projector in the show!
  • Third, in the show, Dr. Kaler refers to a planetarium he built himself as a teenager. With his homemade device, he can project roughly 500 stars in a room using an old Crisco can! That unique homebuilt planetarium appears on display in our lobby.
  • Fourth, this is the first planetarium show that we know about that comes with captioning for the hearing impaired. On one weekend per month, we will be running the captioned show (see our schedule for these weekends).

This is GLPA’s first show offered to other planetariums on a short-streaming contract. Interested planetariums can live stream the show on a three-day license.

We hope you will come see The Stargazer again . . . .for the first time!

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