Home News Vision The lights and the darkness; Robert H. Goddard Planetarium unveils major upgrades...

The lights and the darkness; Robert H. Goddard Planetarium unveils major upgrades with nine shows per week through the end of summer

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Jeremy Howe, planetarium coordinator, at the controls of the digital multi-media system. (Timothy P. Howsare Photo)

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A city with an approximate population of 50,000 people rarely has a planetarium, but we do. And a medium-sized one at that — 40 feet.  Not only that, but it is now equipped with super-fresh, cutting-edge technology that would usually only be found in a big city.  Come see for yourself what a full-dome, immersive film/star show can be like. I often hear words like “amazing,” “best,” “memorable” and “wonderful” from young and old.

Cosmic wonders. (Timothy P. Howsare Photo)

The Robert H. Goddard Planetarium is a gem in the desert — a unique scientific and educational resource for rural, southeastern New Mexico. Built in 1969, as a wing of the Roswell Museum and Art Center (established 1937), this facility has provided programming to children and adults from around the world for the past 49 years.

Up until mid-October of 2017, the planetarium had been reliant upon vintage and nostalgic analog technology. That is, the amazing — but antiquated — Spitz model A4 star projector and an attendant bank of Kodak slide projectors.

A significant milestone was reached with the  opening of the newly renovated Robert H. Goddard Planetarium, with major support from Donald and Sally Anderson, donors to the RMAC Foundation, the City of Roswell, and the community.

New carpet, comfortable seating, removal of pegboard walls, new sheet rock and paint, Chromacove LED lighting system, washing of perforated aluminum panels making up the dome, repainting of dome with correct reflectivity paint and a Bowen 7.1 Surround Sound system all work together to give the planetarium as definite feel and sense of new and modern. With a powerful computer and two cove-mounted fish-eye projectors that auto align and auto blend the imagery is nothing short of stunning.

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A variety of images projected onto the dome screen. (Timothy P. Howsare Photo)

The heart of the system is called Digistar 6 and is the same technology used by the big planetariums in Houston and Denver. Digistar is built on a solid foundation of 30-plus years of experience in delivering digital planetariums around the world. As a leader in the full-dome business, Evans & Sutherland (Digistar’s parent company) has sold, installed and supported more dome theaters around the world than any other vendor. Based in Salt Lake City, Utah, Digistar includes an always-on connection to a cloud library where users can share videos, audio, models, images and other great content. Planetariums that use this system become a member of a community where programming can be shared. As a result, planetarium programming remains stimulating and relevant to today’s audiences.

Our state-of-the-art new digital full-dome projection system is allowing the planetarium to fully realize its mission to foster an appreciation of space science and its impact on our lives, remain relevant to 21st century audiences, serve as a catalyst for space science education and usher in new STEM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) programming for area schools.

The Roswell Independent School District has been taking full advantage of the planetarium as a resource, as well as has some local daycares. Programming is available for all ages from Space Look and Storybook for the little ones (pre-K) in February to specially designed programs for schools and the general public. Word is getting out to the surrounding towns, as well.  This spring semester, Hagerman, Dexter, Artesia and Tatum have all made reservations.

The projector, or “star ball,” is about 50 years old, dating back to the Apollo moon missions, but everything else is new and state-of-the art. (Timothy P. Howsare Photo)10

This is such a great place for kids and a very accessible resource. I love talking with the children and bringing space science to them with enthusiasm and on their level, which makes for a truly interested and engaged audience. The magnitude of the experience they get is vast. Many times it is a child’s first visit to a planetarium. Their whole idea of space is broadened with new understanding of just how enormous space is and how tiny we are. I am also firmly convinced, that, at some point, some young person will be in the audience and be unwaveringly convinced that space exploration is exactly what they want to do with their life!

The shows! What about the shows? Well, we are ramping up the frequency of the showings. From June 12 to the end of August, shows will be presented on Tuesdays at 7 p.m., Wednesdays through Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. These will be full-dome films accompanied by a star presentation that last approximately 40 minutes in total. This is a new experience for us, so please respond by attending a show. For more information or to schedule a group, call 575-624-6744, ext. 23.

We want you here. Community interest and planetarium growth is one of our main goals.

Funding will continue to be important to be able to purchase new full-dome films and keep the content fresh. Check out the city website and RMAC on Facebook for the summer 2018 schedule dates, times, descriptions and prices. And don’t forget about the laser light shows July 6-8. They will sell out fast.

Jeremy Howe is the planetarium coordinator at Robert H. Goddard Planetarium.

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