New planetarium to more than double current capacity

The Daily News

Ball State’s new planetarium will be a major upgrade from the one currently in use, according to Planetarium director Ronald Kaitchuck.

The new Charles W. Brown Planetarium will be the largest planetarium in the state and the 10th largest in the country. The proposed 52-foot dome will include 148 individual, front-facing seats, and a multicolor LED system.

A new $1.3 million hybrid star projector will take the place of the currently outdated 46-year-old star projector. The projector will display nearly 10 million stars and include accurate planet projections for nearly 10,000 years. It will also accurately project moon projections and phases.

Kaitchuck said he’s been proposing plans to build a new planetarium since 1999. The idea finally gained ground when Charles W. Brown made a substantial donation.

“When I first met Brown, I initially was proposing a 40-foot dome,” Kaitchuck said. “The first thing he said was ‘Are you sure it’ll be big enough?’”

The new planetarium projector will be so detailed that visitors can bring binoculars to see more stars and star clusters.

The projector will also simulate movement, taking viewers from a city environment to an ocean in seconds. It will even be able to “travel” outside the Milky Way galaxy, according to Kaitchuck.

“We can fly through the Orion Nebula or even the rings of Saturn,” he said.

Construction will begin this month and should be completed by August 2014.

After all construction is done, the project will cost $4.6 million, all of the money coming from numerous donors across the state.

Kaitchuck stressed the impact it will have on education and attracting more visitors.

“If you want to visit a high-tech planetarium dome, you have to either come to Muncie or Chicago,” he said.

Currently, about 4,000 people visit the planetarium each year, but attendance is on pace to double this year.

Freshman Rayna Gerth said she is relieved that the new facility will have more seating.

“The fact that it’s going to seat twice the amount of people is pretty awesome,” she said. “Right now they’re having to turn people away at their shows on the weekend because of the such limited seating.”

Kaitchuck said he is sure the planetarium will be worth the cost because of the already-full crowds.

“Where anywhere do you see science departments turning away people?” he said.

All current planetarium shows are free, and the department plans to keep it that for the new planetarium, but they could not offer a guarantee.

The current planetarium was built in 1967 and has seen over 400,000 visitors since it first opened, but Kaitchuck said he’s more than ready to move on.

“I am looking forward to saying goodbye to this dome and moving to the new facility,” Kaitchuk said.

Devin Thomas contributed to this story.

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