What did the stars look like the day you were born? What's that constellation called with the three stars lined up like a belt? What does the sun look like as seen through a telescope?
A new planetarium has just opened in Louisiana at Shreveport's Sci-Port Discovery Center where you can find the answers to all these questions. Like most planetariums, it offers dazzling shows about the universe and models of the planets. But it's the unique interactive nature of some of the exhibits that the Sci-Port expects will be its biggest attraction.
The Dayna & Ronald L. Sawyer Space Dome Planetarium opened Nov. 18 as part of a 25,000-square-foot "Space Center" addition to Sci-Port Discovery Center. The planetarium was designed by Sci-Port President & CEO Al Najjar.
The dome of the planetarium hangs at a 45-degree angle in a space cut out from the second floor of the addition. You can watch planetarium shows from first-floor seats, or the second-floor balcony. Models of the planets hang from columns set around the other side of the balcony, which is actually the outside of the planetarium shell and is painted in orange, yellow and black, to represent the sun, with lights to simulate the solar currents.
There are three other planetariums in Louisiana, not including the planetarium at the Audubon Nature Center in eastern New Orleans, which closed permanently because of damage from Hurricane Katrina.
But it's the five kiosks in front of the seating at the Sci-Port planetarium that makes the biggest difference between this facility and other planetariums both in the state and around the world.
About a third of the time, the Sci-Port planetarium offers interactive exhibits, with three different ways for patrons to manipulate the laser-beam images on the dome.
One interactive program lets people see what the sky looked like at their birthplace when they were born. The image appears on the dome, with your name, for several minutes, for everyone in the planetarium to see.
Planetarium spokesman Eric Gipson could only describe it as "totally awesome" when he saw the sky from his own birth date up there (Dec. 13, 1963), including a formation of stars that he swears resembles nothing so much as the "Gipson family nose." He plans to take his 6-year-old daughter to see her birth sky on her birthday.
Another interactive program is a constellation challenge, where an image is displayed on the dome and you have to guess what it is. (The constellation with three stars in a row like a belt is Orion the Hunter.)
The most complex of the three interactive programs is the International Space Station. "One person controls an arm of the International Space Station, another controls the space shuttle, another controls the solar panels," said Rebecca Nesbitt, the Sci-Port's program director. "They all have to work together. If the solar panels aren't at the right angle and don't collect enough energy, everyone goes down."
Movies and live presentations will split the planetarium's non-interactive time.
Other areas of Sci-Ports new Space Center include rooftop telescopes where you can have a safe view of the sun. The center also includes a 32-foot-long pendulum that rings chimes at the edge of a circle as the earth - and therefore the room - turn beneath it; a solarium in which the skylight is a 20-foot sundial; and interactive astronomy, space and math exhibits.
The planetarium and Space Center were built with $5.1 million from private donors and $6.5 million in public money - $3 million from Shreveport, $2 million from Louisiana and $1.5 million from NASA.
The planetarium replaces a city-owned, 1960s-era planetarium that closed about 18 months ago.