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New Planetarium rockets star lovers across the galaxy

Published: 10/05/2012

Saturn's rings are a dense mess of celestial matter.

A trip through the Milky Way feels like you're falling into a bed of stars.

And Jupiter is an imposing monster of a planet that makes its brethren look puny in comparison.

There's a lot to learn when you're rocketing through space on a virtual ride through the galaxy. And sometimes, just holding on to your lunch while speeding across space faster than the speed of light, is part of the ride.

That's the wonder and thrill of the Winnipeg Planetarium's brand new, state-of-the-art digital dome projection system.

"The sky is no longer the limit at the Planetarium," says Scott Young, the facility's resident astronomer and manager of science communication and visitor experiences.

The new projection system, called Digistar 5, is the first of its kind in Canada and only the second in the world. It's a full-on immersion and flat-out roller coaster  ride through the universe. While it's not technically 3D, it sure feels like it, especially when the earth fills the dome and flies past almost faster than it registers in your brain.

The system projects one seamless single image instead of a patchwork of slides beamed side-by-side on to the ceiling of the dome, which was used previously.

"We're going from a fax machine to an iPhone5," Young says.

The $380,000 upgrade represents the biggest improvement in the Winnipeg-based Planetarium's 44-year history.

"It's an exciting new way of looking at our world," says Claudette Leclerc, CEO of the Manitoba Museum and Planetarium. 

The new system is a vast leap forward and all but replaces Marvin the star machine, the centre's original Zeiss projection system. Marvin will occasionally be used but the Digistar 5 and its three computers will be the main system.

With Digistar 5, Planetarium guests can take on a personalized tour of the universe. Using touch-screen technology and an iPad, Young flies his star watchers from earth, past the moon, beyond the nearest stars and on a tour of the planets, including an inside look at the Milky Way Galaxy and its dense pinwheel of stars and celestial matter. And every time a new star, comet, moon, planet or other space body is discovered, Young can simply upload the information, keeping the map of the stars current with the latest information available.

The Planetarium isn't limited to just star gazing.

The Digistar 5 projects movies and documentaries filmed using digital dome technology  or even fish-eye lens on cameras. A new film screening at the Planetarium, called Experience the Aurora, is actually time-lapse stills which captured the Aurora Borealis by scientists over the course of a year and then was strung together, frame by frame into a film.

The Planetarium's new projection system launches October 6, 2012 with three productions: One World, One Sky: Big Bird's Adventure, Wonders of the Universe and Experience the Aurora. New shows will be added regularly.

The Planetarium screens shows daily. Click here for show times and descriptions.

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