Visitors to the new and improved Eastern Kentucky University's Hummel Planetarium can explore the depths of space without the hassle of a rocketship or a college degree.
The 27-year-old planetarium re-opened May 21 after receiving $160,000 worth of software and equipment upgrades. The planetarium closed down for two weeks before EKU's Christmas break in 2014.
One new feature is a new sky in the planetarium. With the click of a computer mouse, Planetarium Manager James Hughes can project the evening's night sky onto the planetarium's ceiling. The equipment used to simulate the night sky is capable of projecting up to 10,164 stars.
Not only can audiences view the sky from any point on Earth, but they can also view the universe beyond Earth, travelling throughout the Milky Way or observing storms on Jupiter.
"You can go to different planets, fly to the moon and look around," Hughes said. Audiences will experience the universe thanks to the planetarium's new Definiti system, which creates high-resolution video streams and 360-degree environments.
The previous system did not have the same capabilities the new system has, Hughes said.
"It had the function, but it didn't do what we wanted it to do," he said. "We wanted the ability to do more things with our classes."
The new Definiti system "utilizes a high-tech array of projectors and computers. Projectors, lenses, Definiti graphics computers, and DigitalSky software work in tandem to maximize image quality and performance, stitching high-resolution video streams into one seamless picture to immerse audiences in a 360-degree environment," according to a news release about the upgrades.
Also, with its recent renovation, the planetarium's seating capacity was increased from 164 to 194, including more handicapped seating.
The planetarium resumed public programs on Saturdays with shows such as "Perfect Little Planet" and "Stars: The Powerhouses of the Universe." The planetarium has also added other programs and will switch them out randomly, Hughes said. Visitors can call ahead on Fridays to determine what programs are being shown the following Saturday.
The planetarium worked on the upgrades for about two to three years, Hughes said. The first upgrade involved the new projectors and the most recent upgrade involved updating software. Equipment upgrades are common among planetariums, said EKU's Director of Strategic Communications Jerry Wallace.
"Planetariums that wish to remain relevant and useful must keep up with technology advances, and that is what we are doing at EKU," Wallace said.