MONTGOMERY - Visitors to the W.A. Gayle Planetarium will get an even more out of this world experience thanks to a new full-dome digital projector and renovation unveiled this week.
Officials with Troy University and the City of Montgomery got their first look at the upgraded planetarium during a special premiere event today. The planetarium will reopen to the public on Sunday, March 9, at 2 p.m.
"We researched the various projection systems on the market to determine the best fit for Montgomery," said planetarium director Rick Evans. "That research has paid off, and we are ecstatic with the new Super Mediaglobe. The projection is beyond brilliant, fully immersive and absolutely spectacular. The new astronomy software is beyond amazing. The stars in the night sky look fantastic, but there's so much more than stars. We now have a digital, three-dimensional map of the entire universe."
The planetarium closed in late January for the $500,000 upgrade project that replaced the 45-year-old analog projector, in use since the Planetarium first opened in 1969, with a new full-dome digital projector capable of creating more dynamic, immersive shows. The new system is controlled by computer, with the images of stars and planets emanating from a single digital projector in the center of the dome, giving viewers the visual experience of zooming in and out of galaxies and planets, circling a planet or traveling through the universe.
"We can lift off from Earth and fly through our solar system, out of our galaxy and out to the very edge of the universe," Evans said. "Or we can orbit Earth, using satellite data to observe and understand our planet in a whole new way. Short of NASA's database, I can't imagine a more powerful set of tools for exploring our universe and our place in it."
The new digital system will also offer a greater variety of programming options beyond astronomy, including programs on natural history, biology and other fields.
The project included a complete renovation of the auditorium including refurbished seating.
"What you saw here today is just scratching the surface of what this facility can do, which is limited only by our imaginations," said Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange, who added that the facility could even be used for economic development purposes through providing virtual overflights of the city and potential sites.
TROY Chancellor Dr. Jack Hawkins Jr. said the planetarium would provide expanded educational opportunities for k-12 students and college students alike.
"This is really a transition … from high touch to high tech. To see the capacity today and know what it means will provide a tremendous educational opportunity for students of all ages," he said. "It is a testament to the concept that once stretched to its creative limits, the mind never returns to its fomer shape."
The project was funded by the City of Montgomery and Troy University with support from the Daniel Foundation, Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama and the State of Alabama Education Trust Fund.
The W.A. Gayle Planetarium is located in Oak Park and is operated by Troy University for the City of Montgomery. It is one of the largest planetariums between Atlanta and New Orleans, and more than 100,000 K-12 students have attended educational shows there over the last five years.
The planetarium offers public shows Monday through Thursday at 3 p.m. and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. Admission is $5 and children under five are admitted free.
Troy University Chancellor Dr. Jack Hawkins Jr., W.A. Gayle Planetarium Director Rick Evans, Jay Love, and Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange helped premier the planetarium’s new digital projector during a Thursday event in Oak Park. The University and the City, with assistance from the Alabama Education Trust Fund, the Daniel Foundation and Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama, recently completed a $500,000 upgrade at the facility, set to reopen to the public on Sunday. (TROY photo/Kevin Glackmeyer)