Vanderbilt planetarium reopens with new shows

The planetarium has been undergoing renovations with funds from Suffolk County. As it nears completion, it is preparing to reopen. Videojournalist: Jessica Rotkiewicz (March 4, 2013)

Under the dome of the newly renovated planetarium at the Vanderbilt Museum, visitors won't just see laser-sharp stars -- they'll see them twinkle just as if they were experiencing the Earth's atmosphere.

They won't just see Ursa Major outlined over his constellation -- they'll see the bear come alive as if running in place. And they won't just hear how astronauts explore the universe -- they'll feel as if they're traveling with them, able to explore the galaxy.

"We can fly to the outer reaches of the universe as we know it today," says Lance Reinheimer, interim executive director of the Vanderbilt Museum and Planetarium in Centerport. "The sky's the limit."


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The planetarium, which closed in August 2011, reopens Friday evening with $4 million of upgrades, the majority paid for by Suffolk County tax dollars. After the grand opening, the planetarium will resume a regular, public schedule of four new shows.

'BONES THE SAME'

The familiar red dome of the planetarium remains. "The bones, the structure is the same," Reinheimer says. But once visitors walk through the doors, they'll see the transformation.

The lobby has been redone, with murals of space painted on the walls. A new store, selling planetarium and museum merchandise, opens behind the ticket station. Inside the planetarium dome are new carpeting and chairs -- the old configuration of 236 seats has been reduced to 152 to allow for bigger seats and wider aisles.

The pièce de résistance is the new projector, a state-of-the art piece of equipment called the GeminiStar III that usurps the old projection system, which hadn't been replaced in 42 years. It's a two-part system that enables educators at the control console to give a static view of the sky, do graphic overlays, project photography onto the dome and show pre-filmed, full-dome videos, says Dave Bush, technical and production coordinator. It also has Surround Sound stereo.

NEW SHOWS

The planetarium will initially offer four new shows at different times on Friday evenings and Saturdays and Sundays; other shows will rotate into the lineup beginning this summer. The current shows include:

* "Long Island Skies" uses the star projector to re-create the local night sky. Viewers will learn what seasonal constellations they see from their backyards during a live lecture. Following the program, weather permitting, staff will slide open the roof of the lobby's observatory so visitors can peer through the telescope to see the objects discussed. "To be able to view the sky after a lecture is really cool," Reinheimer says.

* "Stars" is an animated video produced by the United Kingdom's National Space Centre and narrated by actor Mark Hamill, best-known as Luke Skywalker in "Star Wars." The 26-minute video features astronauts, spacecraft, telescopes, nebulas and clusters, and offers a soundtrack by The Nashville Symphony Orchestra. It's suitable for the whole family.

* "One World, One Sky" is geared to the little ones, featuring Elmo, Big Bird and their friend Hu Hu Zhu from China's version of "Sesame Street." During the 27-minute video, the characters discover that though they live far apart, they share the same night sky.

* "Solar System Odyssey" follows character Jack Larson on a mission to discover a new planet to colonize. "You really get a sense of movement," Reinheimer says. The 27-minute video is meant for ages 10 and older, and is especially appropriate for middle schoolers.

Visitors who catch space fever will be able to take pictures of themselves as astronauts using two exhibits on loan from NASA for six to eight weeks. One is a collage of space exploration, and the other is a panel cutout of a space suit that visitors can stand behind for photos.

WHAT Grand reopening of the Vanderbilt Museum's Planetarium

WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. March 15 ("Long Island Skies") and 9 p.m. ("Stars"), 180 Little Neck Rd., Centerport

INFO $9; $8 ages 62 and older and students 13 and older; $7 ages 12 and younger; 631-854-5579, vanderbiltmuseum.org

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