The Dome is Done! Planetarium renovation moving ahead right on schedule

The Burke Baker Planetarium and Friedkin Theater renovation project reached a milestone this week, and we at the museum are brimming with anticipation!

Okay. That’s an understatement. When we first heard the news, we all ran around screaming, “The dome is finished! The dome is finished!” That’s what really happened.

The dome is indeed complete, and it was no basic DIY endeavor. The Houston Museum of Natural Science’s Astronomy department budgeted an hour for the installation of each of the 197 panels installed. The old screen was removed and replaced first with support structures and next with the new screen, piece by piece, snugly tucked into place.

Dome Complete

In a 360-degree shot, the new domed screen over the Friedkin Theater in the Burke Baker Planetarium looks like a giant cue-ball.

It’s a painstaking process, according to Planetarium Producer Adam Barnes, the man behind our 360-degree custom-made films. He’s working on a time-lapse photo record of the installation that should be available on social media in the next couple of weeks. Once the old screen was gutted and recycled, Barnes explained, project crews shot 16 anchor bolts into the primary structure of the dome, then got to work on its “rib cage,” the support structure that holds the curved screen. The lowest-hanging portion was built first, then raised into place using come-alongs and chained to the anchor bolts at about 20 degrees. The front of the support structure is about two feet off of the ground at the front of the theater and about 20 feet in the back, giving the new dome its aesthetically pleasing tilt. Once the bottom rung was installed, the crew worked in a upward to the center of the dome, installing one rung at a time until the last circular piece was set in place at the top.

PlanetSupport

With the old screen recycled, the next step is unpacking the scaffolding!

“If you imagine a globe, and the lines of latitude and longitude it’s divided into, that’s what the support structure looks like,” Barnes said. “Each little square gets smaller and smaller and more curved until you get to the center, which is a circle.”

With the bones of the theater set, each white panel was raised and placed, carefully measured and marked for size, then taken back down for shaping. The panels ship separately, pre-painted to a specific color rated to 45 percent reflectivity, perforated to make installing the rivets easier, and oversized for the tightest fit possible. Once each panel was measured, it was clamped onto a curved workbench and whittled down into the perfect shape, then re-hung into its final position.

334A2471_med

One by one, the panels are installed with careful measuring and alignment.

“Then they go on to the next panel,” Barnes said. “Each rivet is placed into one of the perforations, so you can’t see how it’s mounted. It’s flush, and they put a little bit of paint over the tiny metal rivet so it blends in very nicely.”

One by one, the panels were installed around and all the way to the top of the dome in much the same fashion as the supports underneath them. The result is a smooth, seamless screen specially designed for domed projections. While most flat-screen theaters have a reflectivity of between 60 and 70 percent (a mirror would reflect 100 percent of light projected onto it), the dome theater’s lower rating actually allows the image to become sharper, though it may not bounce as much light back into the eyes of viewers.

Planet1

“For a dome, you’re shining projectors in front of you but also behind you,” Barnes said. “It’s like looking at an image on a nice, big TV projector screen in front of you and then opening the windows behind you so you can’t see the screen anymore. We call it cross-talk, when the light bouncing off the screen behind you ends up washing out the image in front of you.”

The interference of cross-talk is simply eliminated with a less-reflective screen, maximizing the power of each of the 50 million unique pixels pouring from the Evans & Sutherland Digistar 5 laser projection system. And with the tilt of the dome, guests receive a theater-like experience we’re sure they’ve never seen before.

Planet2

Mark on your calendars the grand opening of the newly renovated Burke Baker Planetarium and Friedkin Theater March 11. Don’t miss the show! Be the first to see the brightest planetarium in the world in action!

Author’s note: All photos by Adam Barnes.

We’ve Got the Fever: Particle Fever screening one night only at HMNS! (10/9/14)

Next week we’re bringing you the chance to glimpse back in time to the very beginning of the universe with the critically acclaimed documentary Particle Fever screening Thursday, October 9 in the Wortham Giant Screen Theatre at 6:00 p.m.

“Wait a second,” you might say, “how can this documentary show us the beginning of the universe? I’m pretty sure cameras came along much later.”

Well what if I told you that scientists have built a machine capable of re-creating the conditions of that very, very, very, very hot, small, energetic place that would eventually come to be the universe as we know it.

Along the way these scientists also invented a handy little thing called the internet (sorry, Al Gore). You might’ve heard of it… No? Google it.

These are the scientists at CERN in Switzerland and over the past several decades they’ve designed and built the Large Hardron Collider, which is the biggest machine ever made. 

“The large whaaaaaa?”

It’s basically a 5 story tall, 27 kilometer long tunnel, lined with computers, 100 meters underground capable of making particles collide with one another at extremely fast speeds so they break up into their fundamental pieces. This can give us a better idea of why the universe looks and behaves the way it does. 

In this exciting, fast-paced documentary we get a front-row seat to the frontier of scientific discovery. We watch as scientists’ entire careers hang in the balance, waiting to see what will come out of these experiments. Told through interviews and stunning animation, in a very “approachable-and-interesting-even-if-you-failed-high-school-physics” way, this film will inspire you, much like the scientists it features, to seek out every answer you can about the “everything there is” — the universe.

Don’t miss out!

Particle Fever, showing October 9 in the Wortham Giant Screen Theatre at 6:00 p.m.

 

Watch the video below for a fantastic intro to the experiments at CERN:

 

This video delves a little further into just why these scientists are so bent on discovering new particles:

Film Screening
Particle Fever Film Screening
Thursday, October 9, 6 p.m.

Join Hadron Collider researcher Dr. Paul Padley of Rice University for this one-night-only screening of the film Particle Fever at HMNS. Click here for tickets.

Go Stargazing! April Edition

Saturn, up all night long last month, can now be found in the east southeast at dusk.  We are seeing its rings a little more edge on than earlier in the year, an effect that gets even more pronounced next month.

Venus keeps getting higher in the evening sky during the month of April.  Face west at dusk and look for a point of light that outshines everything in the sky. As April opens, Venus has a companion; the elusive Mercury is to its lower right.  Normally too close to the sun to appear in our night sky, Mercury has come from behind the sun and appears far enough to its side that we can still see it just after sunset. Mercury’s greatest elongation (apparent distance from the sun) occurs on April 8.  After that date, we see Mercury return towards the sun’s glare.

Mars is very high in the evening sky, although not as bright as it was in winter.  Since Jan. 29, the Earth has been pulling ahead of Mars on its faster orbit.  As a result, Mars gets slightly dimmer each night for the rest of 2010.  However, during April, Mars remains brighter than average and thus remains easy to see.  Look high in the south at dusk for a reddish point of light.

Jupiter is low in the southeast at dawn this month.  Look for it low in twilight as day begins to break.  It will be higher in the southeast by the end of the month.

Johannes Hevelius drew the Orion constellation
in Uranographia, his celestial catalogue in 1690

Now that the winter is over, the winter stars have shifted to the west.  Dazzling Orion is high in the southwest.  His belt points right to Aldebaran, the eye of Taurus, the Bull.  The Dog Stars Sirius and Procyon are to Orion’s left.  Sirius is the brightest star we ever see at night.  Gemini, the Twins, are to Orion’s upper left.  Look for two stars of equal brightness less than 5 degrees (three fingers at arms’ length) apart.  These are Castor and Pollux, marking the twins’ heads.  High in the northwest is Capella, the sixth brightest star ever seen at night.

Meanwhile, the spring stars are high in the east.  A distinct backwards question mark shape outlines the mane and forepaws of Leo, the Lion.  Three stars forming a right triangle rise underneath; they mark Leo’s hindquarters.  The Big Dipper is high in the northeast at dusk. If you have a clear eastern horizon, you can extend the curve of its handle to ‘arc to Arcturus’ and then ‘speed on to Spica.’  These stars are along the eastern horizon by dusk tonight.

Star Cloud Over Saskatchewan.jpg
Creative Commons License photo credit: Space Ritual

The large contrast between the bright winter stars in the west at nightfall and the dimmer spring stars in the east arises because of the shape of our Milky Way. The Galaxy is a barred spiral much thinner than it is wide across. Thus, most stars are near the plane of the galaxy.  Orion, Taurus, Gemini, and the Dogs are near the galactic plane, while Arcturus and the stars of Leo and Virgo are far above it.



Moon Phases in April 2010:

Last Quarter                  April 6, 4:37 a.m.

New Moon                      April 14, 7:30 a.m.

1st Quarter                     April 21, 1:19 p.m.

Full Moon                       April 28, 7:18 p.m.

Webisode: Space Glasses! [Hubble 3D]

For nearly 20 years, the Hubble Space Telescope has dazzled us with unprecedented views of the cosmos—from the splendor of our celestial neighborhood to galaxies billions of light years away. A new IMAX film, Hubble 3D is blasting off at HMNS on Mar. 19. Be sure to look at some of the amazing photos of the universe around us, courtesy of NASA.

Hubble 3D will transport you to galaxies that are 13 billion light years away, back to the edge of time.

Just can’t wait until March 19? Never fear – IMAX is releasing webisodes from the production of the film, and we’ll be featuring them here on the blog.

In the first webisode, find out what happens when you launch a billion dollar telescope with an off-kilter lens – and just how delicate this spectacular instrument really is. In this behind the scenes interview, astronaut Mike Massimino talks about his space mission to repair the Hubble Telescope in May of 2009.

Can’t see the video? Click here to watch it.

Check back here for exclusive videos and more behind the scenes interviews before and after the launch of Hubble 3D in IMAX.