A trip to the Herbert F. Trackman Planetarium will be an entirely new, visually entertaining experience after a new Omnistar digital projector is installed this winter. The new projector, funded by a $186,000 grant from the JJC Foundation, will offer both students and community members a more interactive experience with a wider variety of shows.
This gift is close to the heart of the JJC Foundation because one of the first gifts the Foundation granted went toward the planetarium after its inception in the early 1970s. The current Spitz 512 Planetarium Projector has been used since the planetarium was built in 1972.
“The Foundation is pleased that decades later, through the generosity of our donors and the hard work of the Foundation staff and volunteers, it is in a position to keep the planetarium in step with what modern technology has to offer,” said Tom Osterberger, JJC Foundation Board president.
According to Andrew Morrison, JJC natural sciences professor, this new projector has the power to draw from current satellite information and instead of only showing views of the stars from Earth, the digital projector can show views from almost anywhere in space – the Milky Way galaxy and beyond.
“This digital projector has the capability to do very advanced visualizations of lots of different things in the universe. It is a huge change in what we’re going to be able to do,” Morrison said. “With the digital system projector, we can project anything we want. We can project the sky image from anywhere in the universe. We could go to Mars and show you what the sky looks like from there. It’s a totally different way of thinking.”
The projector, controlled by two high-power computers, can even display historic satellite data to show what the Earth looked like from space during a volcano eruption or other similar occurrence.
It also has the ability to connect with other college planetariums around the world. JJC students will have the opportunity to interact with up to eight classrooms at a time.
Morrison said the projector will come with a library of shows already in its system, but it will be updated frequently, constantly having new information to project.
“As things happen and discoveries are made, we’ll have the ability to update the catalogs from the Internet. The satellite data is always changing,” Morrison said.
The projector will also be able to show full dome movies.
After the current Spitz 512 Planetarium Projector is taken down, it will be put on display at the Joliet Area Historical Museum.
Morrison said he doesn’t know how long it would have taken to raise the money for this projector without the help of donors and the Foundation.
“Without a doubt, we wouldn’t be in the place that we’re at right now without the funds that are provided by the Foundation,” he said. “I can’t think of how long we would be on a campaign to raise the funding we needed.”
The Herbert F. Trackman Planetarium not only serves JJC students, but it also caters to elementary school children who come to campus for field trips every week. The planetarium opens its doors to community members on select Tuesday and Thursday nights each month for free shows featured throughout the school year.
“In addition to providing a wonderful tool for JJC students, the planetarium has always been a great vehicle for the college to reach out to the community and provide a unique learning experience,” said Osterberger. “It is especially important to engage young students in the area and offer them a chance to see firsthand how exciting education can be at JJC.”
Kristi Mulvey, executive director of JJC’s Resource Development office, works closely with the JJC Foundation board.
“As Executive Director of Resource Development at JJC for the past 13 years, I am honored that our current Foundation’s Board realizes the positive impact this gift of equipment will make on our students studying astronomy and the entire community,” Mulvey said.
The Herbert F. Trackman Planetarium is located on JJC’s Main Campus in the F-Building at 1215 Houbolt Road in Joliet. JJC is only one of seven community colleges in Illinois that has a planetarium, and only one out of three planetariums in the area that will have a digital projector. Nearly 10,000 people visit the Herbert F. Trackman Planetarium each year for its free evening shows. The Omnistar digital projector will be ready for use by mid-January.
To allow time for the renovations, the planetarium will be closed from Dec. 6 through Jan. 20. The Christmas Star show previously scheduled for Dec. 15 has been rescheduled to Dec. 1 at 2 pm.
For more information about the Herbert F. Trackman Planetarium, or to view a listing of community shows, log on to www.jjc.edu/about/community-interests/planetarium. To book a field trip at the planetarium, contact Field Trip Coordinator Tammy Barnes at 815-280-2917 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.