Modernized Fiske takes viewers through universe in high definition

October 10, 2013 •

Sky gazers at CU-Boulder’s Fiske Planetarium are getting better, clearer and deeper views. And not just of astronomy anymore.

The planetarium has been upgraded, transforming it into a digital IMAX-like theater that’s open to the public every Saturday and Sunday with a variety of programs including shows for children. In addition to space odysseys and laser shows -- longtime favorites of audiences -- movies are now part of the Fiske lineup.

“Just like at an IMAX theater, we can take you near a black hole, through the Grand Canyon, under the ocean, or up to a super volcano,” said Doug Duncan, director of Fiske. “The sky is no longer the limit.”

Since 1975, an analog projector affectionately known as "Fritz" piqued imaginations with its star shows. Recently retired, the nearly 40-year-old projector is replaced with a digital “star ball” that can display up to 20 million individual stars -- a vastness not fully visible to the naked eye.

“The naked eye can see about 6,000 stars,” said Duncan, who also is a CU-Boulder research associate in astrophysical and planetary sciences. “Our new projector is so powerful that you can use binoculars inside the planetarium to see millions of stars and the beautiful Milky Way.”

Fiske's refurbished video system projects ultra high-definition pictures at 8,000 by 8,000 pixels in size, giving audience members a crystal-clear 360-degree view on the dome’s 65-foot screen.

“The size and quality is the equivalent of 40 Blu-ray players projecting 40 sections of one video image at once,” said Duncan.

All regular shows include a live demonstration of Fiske's capabilities, showing the stars and flying visitors through the universe.

Featured over weekends will be programs such as “Black Holes,” “Dynamic Earth,” “Supervolcanoes,” and “Zula Patrol” -- a family show -- as well as laser shows set to everything from the music of AC/DC to Lady Gaga. Tickets range from $7 to $10.

Fiske, which offers some programs in Spanish, is the largest planetarium of its kind between Los Angeles and Chicago. The recent upgrade is the first of its extent at Fiske since the planetarium was established in the early 1970s.

Each year, roughly 20,000 members of the public and 30,000 K-12 students from across the state take a front-row seat on the universe at Fiske. That’s in addition to the 4,000 CU-Boulder students who visit the stellar classroom for introductory astronomy and other courses.

Fiske also employs CU-Boulder students in various fields to help run the planetarium and to produce programs for distribution. Film students staffed at Fiske get to work with software used in Hollywood and by Pixar, says Duncan.

The recent technological advancements at Fiske translate into wonderful experiences for students and visitors.

“I’ve been to several of the most beautiful sky-gazing sites in the world, from Hawaii to Chile,” said Duncan. “Fiske is the only indoor planetarium that I’ve seen that makes me feel like I’m really out there.”

For more information about Fiske Planetarium, including schedules, visit http://fiske.colorado.edu or call 303-492-5002. 

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