Joliet Junior College’s new Omnistar digital planetarium projector will make its official debut at the Herbert F. Trackman Planetarium on Tuesday, April 15 on the Main Campus, 1215 Houbolt Road in Joliet.
The public is invited to a showing at 7:30 p.m. in the F-Building, with cookies and punch available as refreshments.
The Omnistar projector was installed in January after the JJC Foundation approved a $186,000 grant in September 2013 to pay for the purchase of the equipment.
JJC’s Spitz 512 planetarium projector, which had been used since former JJC President Doug Graham opened the facility in February 1973, will soon be put on display at the Joliet Area Historical Museum.
The new Omnistar projector is state-of-the-art and will provide more learning opportunities for both JJC students and the public. The equipment has the power to draw from current satellites and offers a more interactive viewing experience with a wider variety of shows. The projector can show views of the stars from Earth, as well as anywhere else in space – the Milky Way galaxy and beyond. Controlled by two high-power computers, the projector can even display historic satellite data to show what the Earth looked like from space years ago. It also has the ability to connect with other college planetariums around the world.
This gift is the biggest donation the planetarium has received since 1988, when 1931 JJC graduate Herbert Trackman donated $85,000, an amount that allowed the facility to upgrade its computers and add video and multiple crossfading slide projectors.
“My purpose in the small part I’ve played in this is to further education,” Trackman said during the planetarium’s 1988 open house. “Education is vital to every goal in this community, state, nation and world. It is education that will bring about understanding, the fellowship and, in a sense, the reasoning that will make this a better world for all of you.”
According to Ed Eichelberger, who was planetarium director from 1988 to 2003, Trackman’s donation made a big difference in the quality of the planetarium’s public shows. In fact, there were more than 40 public shows scheduled for JJC’s 1988-89 school year – more shows than had ever been scheduled before during a single year at that time.
As planetarium director, Eichelberger wrote and produced his own shows. Using the new equipment from 1988, which was state-of-the-art at the time, Eichelberger manually put together each projected image on the screen. This was a very labor-intensive process for one person. Although he now had the capability to pan four images at once and use transitions, he had to aim and align everything just so, otherwise the stars and planets would become out of place.
During Eichelberger’s run as planetarium director, he hosted 2,650 public showings with a total of 123,263 visitors.
“In the 30 years from 1973 to 2003, there were easily 220,000 visitors,” Eichelberger added. “That tells you what the planetarium meant to the community. It was important, and it still is to this day.”
Art Maurer took over for Eichelberger after he retired. Instead of working with tangible slides, for most of Maurer’s time as director he used PowerPoint slides.
Now that the Omnistar projector is ready to go, Maurer is excited about the possibilities for public showings in the future.
Both Maurer and Eichelberger agreed that the best part of being planetarium director is putting on public shows for elementary school students.
“I tell people, I’ve got the world’s greatest job,” Maurer said. “The average third or fourth grader comes in here – they really know their astronomy – and they want to know everything that they can learn. We just hope that they grab enough of it that they want to stay in science.”
The Trackman Planetarium offers free public shows on select Tuesdays and Thursdays throughout the school year, and closes during the summer months.
For more information about the Trackman Planetarium, 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 email@example.com.