Planetarium ready for the next generation

Hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren, families and college students have experienced a show at Augustana’s John Deere Planetarium since it opened in 1969, but an extensive renovation has created an immersive — and more comfortable — theater experience.

“Unlike our old, optical-mechanical projector that displays a static starfield, the new Digitarium Lambda projector displays a digital image over the entire 30-foot dome,” said Dr. Lee Carkner, professor of physics and astronomy and director of the planetarium.

“This allows us to run new full-dome planetarium shows, which combine a simulation of the night sky with images, computer animation and surround sound integrated together to produce an astronomical spectacle.”

John Deere awarded Augustana a grant of $16,500 to fund the purchase of full-dome shows for the planetarium. In addition to the new projector, the planetarium upgrade includes a new ceiling, new whiteboards, new cove lights (the lights that start and end shows) and new seats, fully upholstered and reclinable.

Augustana is one of only a few small liberal arts colleges that has a planetarium, Dr. Carkner said.

The late Dr. Harry E. Nelson, professor of mathematics and astronomy from 1946-1988, was an integral part of establishing a planetarium and observatory, and was the facility’s director when it was dedicated.