Sneak peek at Flandrau's new state-of-the-art planetarium - Western Mass News - WGGB/WSHM

Sneak peek at Flandrau's new state-of-the-art planetarium

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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

A piece of cutting edge technology is bringing the stars and planets down to earth in Tucson.

It's the first of its kind anywhere in the country, and for almost all of us, it's as close as we'll ever get to the experience of space travel.

KOLD News 13 got a sneak peek at the Flandrau Science Center & Planetarium's biggest change in almost 40 years.

The University of Arizona's planetarium truly is whole a new world with a visual and sound system that promises to take you on the ride of your life.

"So you kind of sit down in your seat and you have to hold on because you can go through the galaxy, really to the edge of the universe with this system," says Flandrau Science Center & Planetarium Director of Exhibits Bill Plant.

Plant took us on a real space odyssey to places you might not think a planetarium can go.

The system has four times the definition of HD-TV and is 360 degrees with surround sound.  

There's also the 3-D effect. 

"So, as you're zooming up to Mars you almost have to duck a little bit because it looks like you're going to run into it," Plant says.

And when you do see Mars you actually are looking at real pictures provided by University of Arizona scientists.

The planetarium is not tied to a certain movie it has on the shelf.

Ask a question about a planet and...

"We can take visitors in real time on a journey to visit, let's say Saturn and dip down into Saturn's rings," Plant says.

Outer space isn't the only place we can go.

A cell in a moth's brain is not too small to explore.

A giant picture of the tiny cell pops up on the planetarium's screen.

It comes from Dr. Lynne Oland, a research professor in the UA Department of Neuroscience.

She's studying how some of the smallest parts of the brain grow and function.

So Flandrau's planetarium is now a classroom too.

The idea is that  complicated information is so much easier to learn when you can see it in 3-D.

Dr. Joaquin Ruiz, UA College of Science Dean: "Walk through the protein. Walk through neurons and see what that's like. Walk through the atmosphere and the oceans and see how you couple the oceans to the atmosphere, how the circulation of the oceans controls the circulation of the atmosphere and the other way around," says Dean of the UA College of Science Dr. Joaquin Ruiz.

"Visualizing that data can educate you so much quicker than if you can't visualize the data. This thing is going to be used for that," Ruiz says.

Using powerful computers and software southern Arizona has not seen before, Flandrau is becoming a planetarium for people of all ages and all interests, whether you want to be entertained or you want to learn.

"We'll always keep our roots in astronomy and planetary sciences, but we're going to start looking into exploring other areas of science as well in the planetarium theater through FullDome shows as well as different presentations from professors and researchers on campus," says Flandrau Science Center & Planetarium Executive Director Kellee Ellingson.

Flandrau's new projection system is called Colorspace. It's the first planetarium in the United states to use it.

The software is called Uniview.

Flandrau's Planetarium Director Michael Magee says three supercomputers run the system.

There are two projectors that can handle what 50 projectors once did.

He says with Flandrau's old system you could see a few thousand stars.

Magee says the new system is capable of showing nearly one million individual stars.

This is the first major upgrade of the planetarium that opened in 1975.

The new state-of-the-art system cost $650,000. The UA says it was all donated.

Ellingson say the next big step will be to start a fundraising campaign to renovate the seating area of the planetarium.

The all-new shows start September fifth. 

Prices range from $5.00 for children to $7.00 for adults for the planetarium shows.

The price is separate from the Science Center admission price.

For more information, click here.

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