Ball State to build largest and most sophisticated planetarium in Indiana
Topics: College of Sciences and Humanities, Administrative, Alumni
July 23, 2012
An architectural rendering of the new Ball State Planetarium, which should open in 2014.
An Indianapolis entrepreneur who thinks big has committed to making Ball State University's planetarium the largest and most sophisticated structure of its kind in the state. The new Ball State Planetarium will be one of the most advanced in the country.
Charlie Brown, a 1971 alumnus and co-owner of Southern Bells, a chain of Taco Bell and KFC restaurants, sees his nearly $2.2 million contribution to his alma mater as a way to get students interested in science and technology and give to the community at large. The gift represents nearly half of the total needed to fulfill the ambitious $4.6 million construction plan.
"My goal is to get the biggest and best planetarium we can at Ball State to serve this area of the country. My hope is the community — especially youth — as well as the university students will have an incredible resource here," Brown said.
The new Ball State Planetarium, with its advanced technology and physical capacity, will be a significant community asset with educational partnership opportunities with area schools and youth organizations. It also will serve as a tourist destination and a resource for scientists everywhere and have the capacity to be a destination for the nation's planetarium professionals.
Over its 45-year history, nearly 400,000 visitors have toured the planetarium. More than 200,000 K-12 students, 120,000 community visitors and 60,000 Ball State students have used this remarkable resource as a gateway to space exploration and scientific research.
"A planetarium can expand one's horizons a billion fold," said Ron Kaitchuck, director of the planetarium at Ball State. An outstanding educational and scientific research resource, it also holds the distinction of training more planetarium directors than any other institution, he said.
The new planetarium will encompass a free-standing theater with a prominent campus location off Riverside Avenue. The new facility will feature a 52-foot diameter dome, making it among the largest in the Midwest. It will be one of the top 10 university planetariums in the United States. From a technology standpoint, the planetarium will be ranked with the most advanced, even among the great planetariums in the country.
"In a globally competitive environment, capturing the imagination and enthusiasm of the next generation for science is an investment worth its weight in gold," said Michael Maggiotto, dean of the College of Sciences and Humanities.
Technology and scientific knowledge have advanced tremendously since the Ball State Planetarium first opened. Modern planetariums are better described as immersive space theaters, for they not only show the night sky as seen from Earth, but they also can take an audience on virtual trips across the universe and through time. This is accomplished by a marriage of video projection devices and computers to create imagery that can be viewed across the entire planetarium dome.
These images are limited only by human imagination. For instance, the entire dome can be transformed to an active coral reef, with fish swimming around, or an animated trip through the human body. Viewers can not only see the location of the Orion Nebula against the planetarium star field but can virtually fly around and through it.
At the center of the planetarium project will be a high-technology GOTO Chronos II Hybrid star projector, which will become the heart and soul of the entire facility. The GOTO projector, complemented by an integrated full-dome video projection system and automated by computer control, is designed to accurately portray the night sky up to 10,000 years into the future or into the past, within a few seconds. The projector will allow the study of night sky simulations with sharp displays and realistic star images.
As a hybrid projector, the GOTO equipment is capable of the highest resolution possible in both digital and analog formats. Specifically, star images will shine in unparalleled clarity — 4 billion pixels in analogue and 13 million pixels digital. In addition to precise views of the stars, images from the Internet, NASA and from various scientific databases can be placed anywhere on the dome to enhance educational and informational content.
Although systems of this type are currently being installed in several locations in the United States, the system proposed at Ball State, with its integration of an optical-mechanical star projector with full-dome video, will be unique in the state of Indiana, rare in the entire Midwest and one of the best of its kind in the nation. Once the projector is installed, the Ball State Planetarium will join the ranks of institutions such as the Hayden Planetarium in New York City and the Adler Planetarium in Chicago.
This acquisition will result not just in revised educational programs but entirely new experiences for audiences, Kaitchuck said. The planetarium will convert the best of its existing programs and buy several new full-dome programs. For example, it will be much easier for viewers to understand what goes on during a lunar eclipse when they see it, not from Earth, but from the vantage point of the moon. Other planetariums with similar upgrades have seen attendance triple, he said.
This project was designed based upon a review of new planetarium offerings, the needs of Ball State students, and the needs of K-12 students and the community, Kaitchuck said. Also considered were the training needs of other planetarium professionals and secondary teachers, and input from an advisory group of knowledgeable and interested astronomy alumni and friends, he said.
The university will seek additional donor participation to fund the remainder of the project, which should open in 2014.
The planetarium will be among Ball State's most notable public resources, which include the Wheeler-Thanhauser Orchid Collection and Species Bank, the David Owsley Museum of Art, the Bracken Library Special Collections, The Marilyn K. Glick Center for Glass and performances venues such as Sursa Hall, Emens Auditorium and University Theatre.
By Joan Todd, executive director of public relations