Rosemary Walling, a volunteer and board member of Friends of the Marie Drake Planetarium, views Saturn and its moons’ orbits as projected by a visiting digital projector from Seattle’s Museum of Flight on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019. The planetarium is currently raising money to replace its aging mechanical projector with a digital one. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Rosemary Walling, a volunteer and board member of Friends of the Marie Drake Planetarium, views Saturn and its moons’ orbits as projected by a visiting digital projector from Seattle’s Museum of Flight on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019. The planetarium is currently raising money to replace its aging mechanical projector with a digital one. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Star power: Planetarium shows what fundraising could bring to town

Digital projector offers glimpse of Juneau’s future

Projections look bright for Juneau’s planetarium.

The Marie Drake Planetarium hosted educators from the Museum of Flight in Seattle this week, and they came equipped with a digital system similar to the one Friends for the Marie Drake Planetarium are working to buy.

A digital system would be a massive upgrade over the 1967 Spitz projector the planetarium currently uses, said volunteer Rosemary Walling, who is also a board member for FOMDP.

“It’s so different,” Walling said. “It’s like going to a computer from a slide rule.”

[They’ve played with Ozzy and Slash, now they’re playing in Juneau]

Educators for the Museum of Flight Paul Martinez and Mandy Walker-LaFollette showed the digital system’s capabilities to the Empire. Their fellow educator Natalie Copeland has also been demonstrating the projector at Juneau schools and the planetarium but was not present.

The Museum of Flight educators said they’re used to seeing their portable digital projector work in the confines of a traveling, inflatable dome and were impressed by what it looked like in the planetarium.

“Having a fixed dome here is amazing,” Walker-LaFollette said.

Using the projector, educators could fly to distant planets, travel along the surface of Mars and show overlays of how constellations as interpreted by different cultures.

“Ours is going to be bigger and better,” Walling said.

Currently, the planetarium makes use of its original 1967 projector and system, which has lost its abilities to depict much more than the night’s sky over the years.

“Over time, things stopped working,” Walling said.

First, the planetarium friends need to raise some money, and Walling said progress is being made.

Phase 1 of the project, purchasing a projector, is already complete. Walling said a projector that would normally cost about $32,000 was purchased for $16,500.

[City takes long look at expenses]

The short-term focus is Phase 2, which has a fundraising goal of $12,000. That phase includes purchasing a fish-eye lens, computer, stand, software and a console.

So far, Walling said about a quarter of that total, $3,000, has been raised.

There is a Phase 3 plan that would provide high-resolution Earth and solar system data sets and software upgrades, Walling said fundraising for that can be done incrementally. Phase 2 is what needs to be completed for the planetarium to present a digital show.

When Phase 2 is complete, Walling said the Spitz projector would not need to be moved immediately since the digital system could be calibrated for being placed in an off-center location.

This week has been sort of a public awareness campaign for both the Marie Drake Planetarium and the coveted projector system.

It’s been dubbed Digital Planetarium Week by the planetarium. Flight Museum educators have given presentations to and estimated 600 people at at the planetarium and more than 1,000 Juneau schools students had seen the portable system in action, Walling said.

The response has been so enthusiastic that Walling said the planetarium added two more shows to the week’s schedule.

She said it isn’t often popular demand dictates additional Saturday night shows at the planetarium.

Know & Go

What: Digital Planetarium Week presentations

When: 6:30 and 7:45 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Marie Drake Planetarium, 1415 Glacier Ave.

Admission: Free, but registration is required. Registration can be done online through mariedrakeplanetarium.org.

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