Sssh: Astronomers at Work

Working the System

Astronomy graduate students Kate Grier and Calen Henderson are jazzed by what they learned this month at the intensive week-long Spitz Summer Institute, offered by the makers of the uber-cool Spitz SciDome XD.

The XD, the latest in digital projection technology, is being installed in Ohio State’s Planetarium this fall—and Grier and Henderson can’t wait to get their hands on it.

Ohio State is one of only four institutions in the nation to install the XD, which uses two projectors to display 2560x2560 pixels (that's over 6.5 million) onto the planetarium dome.

The Planetarium, which is getting a major overall overhaul, will not reopen until late January 2013.

“This should give us time to practice and train the other graduate students who will be working with the new equipment,” Grier said.

Planetarium shows are given by astronomy graduate students working on forefront research. In addition to Grier and Henderson, graduate students Rebecca Stoll, Jill Gerke, and Courtney Epstein will be wowing the public when the Planetarium doors finally open.

“We are really excited that we will be able to give visitors insight not only into the motions of the stars and planets, but into new areas of discovery—quite a change from the old equipment that could only show the motions of stars and planets across the sky,” Henderson said.

How Cool Is It? Very Cool.

Among the possibilities the XD offers, in addition to projecting the night sky from anywhere on earth: flying over planetary surfaces, flying through the solar system, projecting the latest images and movies from NASA spacecraft on the dome, plus showing how the skies looked millions of years agoand will look millions of years in the future.

“We are all looking forward to the incredible educational possibilities this opens up. At Spitz we learned so much about how to take advantage of the capabilities we will have. They provide educational content and premade curriculum and offer updates and scripts we can use as part of the shows—this gives us new ideas for lessons and how to interact with students,” Grier said.

“We learned so much during this week, and we learned a lot from other folks from around the country who attended,” Henderson said. “Everyone was open and willing to share ideas and information, which was great. It is going to be so cool to be able to serve the public at this level, especially the young kids who come in. This new equipment will allow us to be much more interactive. We will be able to help them figure out things hands-on.”

Bringing the Stars into Focus for Central Ohio

The astronomy department has provided shows for the public since 1967.

The Planetarium hosts 2,000-3,000 visitors annually, including school and community groups. The new Planetarium will be able to serve even more people on campus, throughout the central Ohio area, and beyond.