Planetarium sets sights on digital future

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Member sneak-peek Nov. 28

By Laura Lewis, Reporter



SUNSET BEACH—2009 should be a good year for Ingram Planetarium.

Not only is it the International Year of Astronomy and the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s telescope, it’s also when the six-year-old planetarium will launch its new $300,000 digital projection system.

In the New Year, television isn’t the only entity switching from analog to digital—the Sunset Beach-based planetarium is, too.

Planetarium and Ocean Isle Beach Museum Foundation executive director Scott Kucera describes it as a two-phase project.

Phase 1 involves installation of laser projection equipment with full-color animation lights choreographed to music and a new 5.1 surround-sound system.

A member-preview unveiling of the system is slated for the day after Thanksgiving, Nov. 28.

The laser system comes with about 20 shows that can be choreographed to everything from Pink Floyd to Shania Twain, Barry Manilow to Metallica, Kucera said.

For Phase 2, “we’re going to purchase a high-definition, full-dome digital projector that we hope to have installed by spring, in time for the summer season,” Kucera said in a recent interview at the planetarium.

Supporters have raised a significant portion of the digital system’s cost from individual donors, Kucera said, adding more fundraising activities are planned.

“We’re halfway there.”

Much credit for that goes to longtime museum trustee Hayden O’Neil, who contributed a large donation to kick-start digital-system fundraising for the planetarium, notes Elizabeth Campbell, associate director at the Museum of Coastal Carolina in Ocean Isle Beach.

Louise Ingram, widow of planetarium founder and namesake Stuart Ingram, then matched O’Neil’s donation.



Going digital will expand the planetarium’s educational capabilities and programs and enhance its entertainment value, Kucera said.

“Right now when you sit in the planetarium, you’ll see stars, the moon and planets,” he said. “You get a sense of motion, but it’s all based on the perspective from Earth. With the digital system, we can teach astronomy and take the audience away and look back to Earth.

“With a digital system, we can say, ‘Let’s go to Jupiter and see what it looks like,’” Kucera said.

Visitors attuned to an up-close digital show in the planetarium’s 85-seat Sky Theater can be feted with views of the mighty planet’s famous red spot, as well as its many moons, he said.

“You virtually land anybody in the solar system,” he added.

In addition to astronomy, the new system can be programmed for other types of science—chemistry, biology, life and health science and weather.

“This will hit many more class-curriculum standards,” Kucera said. “We can hit many grade levels.”

Besides being educational, the new system is fun and ties in with other changes at the planetarium, including new exhibits in its Paul Dennis Science Hall.

With new digitized capability to expand programs, “it means the planetarium has become more of a science center and not just astronomy,” Kucera said.



In addition to donations for the new system, planetarium officials will seek contributions from local and state government, to “see if they can help support science education in Brunswick County,” Kucera said.

He pointed out the planetarium and its umbrella Ocean Isle Museum Foundation are a nonprofit organization.

With 11 planetariums in North Carolina, Kucera said only two—Ingram and Millholland Planetarium at Catawba Science Center in Hickory—are privately funded. The rest, he said, are part of university or school systems.

Therefore, contributions to the planetarium are critical, Kucera said.

Museum contributor O’Neil, recently honored with the naming of a museum lecture hall in his name, noted Ingram “would be leading the acquisition of a digital system for the planetarium.

“Stuart was very much involved, although he did not live to see the opening of the planetarium,” O’Neil said. “He was very involved with the selection of the equipment, which at the time was state-of-the-art. But Stuart would also say, ‘OK, that was good equipment then, but for heaven’s sakes we need the best now,’ and would not be a slave to what we had before but march on to something new that was far more effective.”


Beacon staff writer Kathryn Jacewicz contributed to this story