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A Sky Theater

Sky Theatre Concept

Sky Theatre Concept

Since 1988, Frosty Drew Observatory has been open every clear Friday night to the public. We'd like to be able to provide more access but several problems hinder our ability to provide better astronomical education for children and adults in the area:

We are at the mercy of the weather.
Transitory events are limited to the single person at the eyepiece.
Late hours of operations make school group visits very limited.
Physically handicapped individuals often cannot reach the eyepiece.

A traditional planetarium isn't appropriate for the observatory for these reasons:

Several public planetariums exist within 50 miles.
We wish to go beyond traditional planetariums with a mix live telescope views, media and simulations.
In an area with our fine dark skies, no planetarium projection competes with the sky.

Our solution is a hybrid facility we call a Sky Theater. It will be a wing on the northwest corner of the Frosty Drew Nature Center.

The Sky Theater will mix simulations, media and live telescope views.
We will anticipate real events with simulations and then show the event from the telescope.
Momentary events can be shared from our telescope with large audiences.
Handicapped individuals can use the telescope.
Programs during school hours are possible.
Weather problems are reduced to manageable levels.
Distant live events (eclipses, shuttle launches and southern hemisphere stars) are viewable via the Internet.

We have been actively experimenting with computer based simulations since 1999. Available software allows us to rove at will throughout the solar system and hundreds of nearby star systems. Viewers can move time forward or back tens of thousands of years. We can set ourselves in orbit around a planet, or ride a comet into the inner solar system or fly across the surfaces of the moons of Jupiter. Past and future eclipses of the Sun or the Moon are easily simulated. The software effects are dramatic exciting both staff and visitors. Viewing these simulations on a large screen will be stunning.

We will mix media. When we use the center panel to show a star map of galaxies, our side panels will show pictures of these galaxies. We can show high quality professional videos of events such as the crash of a comet into the Earth in 1908 (Tunguska, Russia). We can broadcast views from the Hubble Space Telescope over the Internet. We can answer questions using simulation software that "shows" the event we are describing (such as the Leonid meteors encountering the Earth).

Unlike traditional planetariums we will transmit live views directly from our telescope. When a real event is about to occurs, we will show visitors a simulation that will allow them to know what to look for when the real event happens. We will then transmit the event live from the telescope. When questions arise we can display an instant repeat or simulate the event from another perspective to clarify our answers. The "Sky Theater" as a screen tilted in front and above the viewer's line of sight. A climate controlled enclosure would allow us to run every scheduled evening and extend our hours into the daytime. On evenings we would be forced to close due to weather, we can provide a substitute experience.

We are currently attempting to obtain sufficient funds from foundations and individuals to build this facility. We are about 20% of the way to our goal. We hope you find this tool as exciting as we do. We would be pleased to discuss it with you any Friday evening at the observatory.

Leslie Coleman
Author:
Leslie Coleman
Entry Date:
Jan 1, 2002
Published Under:
Leslie Coleman's Columns
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