Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

Safe in the Planetarium Projector Museum near Big Bear Lake CA

PlanetariumSadly, computers, microprocessors, the Internet, and the web have conspired (unintentionally) to destroy many wonderful devices that were developed in the past.

From my own industry, I can say that I seldom walk into a factory, or look inside an aircraft cockpit that has much in the way of electrical or mechanical instrumentation or indicators. It’s not all gone by any means, but the glass cockpit and computer display (or LCD) is now more likely to be seen than any sort of device with a pointer. The old hardware is just too expensive to manufacture for general use, given the training and skills needed by the technicians behind it. Although the electronic version may be more expensive, it is generally more robust and easier to install and maintain, especially of many devices are needed. Instead of every indicator needing a dedicated readout, each can be digitised and displayed virtually on a common screen, and have the added advantage of being easy to organise as distributed systems, since the data can be transmitted via the Internet.

Another victim of this trend has been the planetarium, where complex (and expensive) optical systems were carefully created in order to project the various planets, moons, stars, nebulae, galaxies, and any other type of heavenly body, onto the inside of a dome, and we could enjoy looking at a little piece of the observable universe from the comfort of a strangely angled seat.

However, they’re no longer needed, and while the PC once meant purchasing a program to show the night sky and identify many of the items on view, even this expense is largely avoided now, and one can view representations of the night sky online, speed it up or slow it down, or look at its appearance at any date past or future. And a click on any spot of light visible will bring up more details of the star, galaxy, or whatever, provided it is in the database.

I was not even aware they were still even being made until I wrote this item, but they are.

I was lucky enough to visit a few: Glasgow Science Centre has a small one, which I saw during a review visit a few weeks before the centre opened; Jodrell Bank (radio telescope) also had one when I visited some years ago, although the show it put on was very simple, and really only suitable for children  I had a look at Jodrell Bank (The University of Manchester), but there is no mention of the planetarium, just an option to download a free version online; the best one (I saw) was at the London Planetarium, where they operated the system for sensible shows during the day, but then threw a switch for the evening shows, when the planetarium projector was tied into a laser entertainment sound and light show accompanied by a rock music background. It was great, and I visited a number of times when in London for business, then I had a break of a few years, and was amazed to find it had all gone, and there were no more evening shows when I returned. As of 2010, it no longer exists, other than the dome off Marylebone, and that now houses other attractions.


Glasgow Planetarium

Somehow (despite the Glasgow Science Centre‘s various financial and survival crises), the Glasgow Planetarium still survives, and this makes it easy for it to win accolades and praise:

Our projector is a Carl Zeiss Starmaster ZMP-TD, one of the best star projectors in the world. It uses advanced fibre optic technology developed by the German company to show stunning views of the stars and planets as they would look from any place on Earth – but without light pollution. Not only that, but take a pair of binoculars and it is possible to study in more detail the features of the Andromeda nebula, the Magellanic Clouds or the Orion nebula.

The magnificent images are only possible through the use of fibre optic technology. The star ball is made up of 12 powerful wide-angle projectors, each covered by its own star mask with up to 1000 ‘star’ perforations. By directing light efficiently through fibre optic strands to the star masks, it is possible to achieve a far more varied and realistic night sky, from the dazzling Sirius to the awe-inspiring Betelgeuse.

Our planetarium is widely regarded as the best in the UK and one of the finest in Europe. The Starmaster ZMP-TD starball is the reason behind this. Its outstanding detail and amazingly realistic projections make for one truly outstanding experience.

Br Guy Consolmagno, Astronomer for the Vatican visited our planetarium and delivered talks to a packed theatre:

“The Glasgow Science Centre planetarium is one of the most perfect matches of projector and dome size I have ever come across, anywhere in the world. It is everything a planetarium ought to be: an exciting and realistic view of the heavens the way they ought to look. It provides crystal-sharp star images of a quality that is rare on such a large dome, one big enough to give a real feel for how the sky looks. It provides a view that sadly is all too rare in our light-polluted world.”

Glasgow Science Centre Planetarium | What’s here

Enjoy one man’s efforts to maintain the last survivors of The Planetarium Years:

Cool Hunting Video Presents: The Planetarium Projector Museum from Cool Hunting on Vimeo.

There are many beautiful things to see on the drive into Big Bear Lake, CA but one of the more interesting and unknown is the Planetarium Projector Museum. In an unassuming building a stone’s throw from the lake, owner Owen Phairis has managed to compile the largest collection of planetarium projectors in the world. Phairis, who also does an electrical stage show as Nikola Tesla called “Man Of Lighting”, has a very unique obsession with the retired machines. These fantastic optical relics have been rescued from defunct planetariums and schools, now taking residence under a re-purposed military parachute in Phairis’ space. We spoke to Phairis about the projectors and were even lucky enough to get a private viewing of the stars.

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March 13, 2013 - Posted by | Maps | , , , , , ,

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