Renovation Blog Archive

This blog documents the renovation of Strickler Planetarium over the first half of 2008. It originally appeared at Strickler Skyblog.


Well, the moment we’ve been awaiting for has arrived. Strickler Planetarium is now officially open! Thanks to everyone who made our grand opening this past weekend such a success. We had three showings of “Wonders”, and we sold out for every show. Don’t worry though, we’ll be doing it again this Saturday at 6:00 and 7:30 PM and again next Saturday at the same times. Now that renovations are complete and the planetarium is up and running though, this blog will be folded into the new Strickler Planetarium website. I’m not sure what the final URL will be for the website, but for now you can find us at We look forward to seeing you soon! Stay tuned (to the website) for more shows and events.

A new look . . .

The able people at Marketing designed some new banners for the exterior of the planetarium. We wanted something on the outside to reflect the changes on the inside. We also wanted something that creatively illustrated the place of astronomy in the liberal arts. These also feature the new Strickler Planetarium logo.

West (main) entranceWest (main) entrance

South entranceSouth entrance

East entranceEast entrance

Grand Openings

We’re kicking off the unveiling of the new planetarium with a series of public shows featuring Evan and Sutherland’s “Wonders of the Universe“. Look for an add in the Daily Journal, radio spots on Shine.FM, and some exciting additions to the planetarium’s exterior. Here’s the summer’s schedule for public shows:

Olivet Faculty and Staff Grand Opening:
Friday, July 11th– shows at 7 and 8 PM

Public Grand Opening:
Saturday, July 12th– shows at 6, 7:30, and 9 PM

If you miss the grand opening (or see it and want to come back and show your friends), we’ll have public shows on the following two Saturdays, July 19th and 26th at 6 and 7:30 PM.

All shows include a full-dome presentation of “Wonders of the Universe” as well as a live tour of the night sky featuring the capabilities of the new Digistar 3. Tickets are $3 per person. Seating is limited to 50 people per show and there are no reservations, so be sure to show up early! For more information, please call 815.939.5308.

A busy summer . . .

We’ve got a busy summer ahead of us. The planetarium is more or less officially “done”. We’re one of only three planetariums in Illinois with digital projection capabilities, and we’re the only one that’s completely digital. We’ve begun working with the marketing department here to start advertizing for our grand opening events. As of right now we’re aiming to be open to the public on Saturday, July 12th. More details about that as the date approaches . . . In the meantime, we’ve been learning the new system and beginning the process of developing and accumulating content. There are exciting things to see under the dome . . .

Digitstar 3!

It’s been a while since the last post, but it’s been a busy while . . . Last week the sound technicians from Bowen Technovations were here installing the new sound system and LED lights around the cove. At the same time the technicians from Evans and Sutherland were installing and calibrating the new projector: our very own Digistar 3 SP2 HD! After a semester of rennovation, the planetarium came to life. It was a pretty busy place for a few days.

These are the computers that run the system. The rack on the left is for the projector; the one on the right for the audio and lighting system.

Here are the projectors. There are two lenses (the 2 in SP2), each covering half the dome. Getting the images from the two projectors to blend properly and seemlessly is key. This is a picture of them before the projector covers were in place.

Here’s the new mixer and light control box, which sits on the floor to the right of the console. There’s a CD player in the bottom of the rack. The mixer lets us control microphones in the planetarium (one at the console, two up front, and one wireless) as well as the overall sound levels.

Console 2

The best part of the new system (well, one of the best parts) is the way it’s simplified the console. We’ve got a joystick, mouse, keyboard, and monitor. (The laptop is not included, though an ultraportable PC that can be used to control the projector from anywhere in the planetarium is on the way.)

The next step in the renovation process is learning how to operate the new system and training student workers. Keep checking back for updates. We hope to have a grand re-opening date set soon!

Almost done!

Yesterday morning the seats were delivered. They were soon followed by the workers from Irwin Seating, who unpacked them and installed our sleek, new, semi-circular, movie-theatre-style planetarium seating. There are exactly fifty seats under the dome: five rows on the right and four on the left with an aisle down the center. The seats in the front are slightly more inclined so that wherever you sit you have a great view of the dome. I’m pretty impressed . . . Now the only major pieces of the puzzle left are the digital projector itself, along with its accompanying sound system and the LCD lighting that will be installed in the cove. It looks like we’ll be up and running by summer!

Christine models the new chairsChristine models the new chairs

Looking toward the middle aisle (projector stand on left and new console on right)Looking toward the middle aisle (projector stand on left and new console on right)

New operator consoleNew operator console

The planetarium's youngest fansThe planetarium's youngest fans

The new workroom (with countertop)The new workroom (with countertop)

New carpet!

The planetarium is starting to look like a planetarium again . . . The new carpet has been installed in the workroom and under the dome. Olivet electricians and carpenters have been working to get everything ready for the Digistar installation (set to begin on April 14th). They are constructing a new control console as well as a (beautiful) platform for the projector. In addition, the workroom renovations are nearly complete. The walls have been painted (dark blue to cut down on light leaking into the dome) and the cabinets are hung.

New projector stand (notice the new carpet!)New projector stand (notice the new carpet!)

The new workroomThe new workroom

Reed Hall Observatory

Besides all the activity in the planetarium lately (more pictures of which I’ll have soon), the campus observatory has been active as well. Thanks to our local technician, telescope expert, and astronomy enthusiast, Steve Bell, I am being (re)trained in its operation, and we’re working on getting some of the vibrational ‘bugs’ out of the system. Steve and I were able to open the telescope up to astronomy students last night and take some beautiful images.

Waxing crescent moonWaxing crescent moon

Orion NebulaOrion Nebula

Both of these images were taken with an ST8 CCD camera mounted on a 102 millimeter Astelle telescope. The top is an adjusted 0.01 second exposure, and the bottom image was compiled from four 5-minute exposures using various color filters. The observatory is mounted on the roof of Reed Hall of Science, right next door to the planetarium. I’ll post more images of the observatory itself and info about our set-up soon . . .

Better late than never . . .

I’ve neglected to give any accounting of our lunar eclipse observing party here at the planetarium. Actually, with the night being as cold as it was, someone had the great idea of having the observing down the road from campus behind the coffee shop. That way students could go in and out and we could all have warm drinks. And it was cold! Someone told me that astronomers didn’t feel the cold. If that’s the case, I must be a pretty lousy astronomer (or just have pretty lousy gloves), because my fingers were so numb I could barely work the telescope.

We had five faculty members out with a camera and at least four telescopes. Over a hundred students came and went during the period we were set up (from about 7:30 to 10). Besides the eclipse itself, Saturn and Mars were visible, and we also got some nice views of the Pleiades and the Orion Nebula. Of course, some of the students stayed barely long enough to glance at the moon and race back inside for a cup of coffee, but it was gratifying to hear the occasional gasps as people saw Saturn through a telescope for the first time. I think that’s one of the nice things about events like a lunar eclipse: it gets people looking up. And when people look up they see things besides the moon, things that were there anyway but that they otherwise would have missed.

A couple pictures . . .

Thanks to Rick Pirko, one of the workers who painted our dome, for sending along these images. The first shows a composite before-and-after picture of the dome surface. The second is an image he took outside the planetarium the night of the lunar eclipse (while the rest of us were down the road observing it from the parking lot of, fittingly enough, Moon Monkey cafe) and adjusted with Photoshop. Thanks, Rick!

Before and afterBefore and after

Lunar eclipseLunar eclipse

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