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New England News

With Upgrades Completed, Planetarium At Springfield Museums Reopens

The starball at the Springfield Museum's planetarium
Paul Tuthill
/
WAMC

   After 18 months of work -- with interruptions due to the pandemic -- a refurbished planetarium reopened to the public today at the Springfield Museums. 

     The Seymour Planetarium at the Springfield Science Museum has fresh paint, new carpeting, theater-style cushioned seats, and a new digital projection system.

     "It is a great more visual experience than it used to be," said Planetarium Manager Kevin Kopchynski.   "We've got totally rehabilitated imagery to show in our programs."

     The star of the show is the starball -- a machine built locally in 1937 that projects a 360-degee view of the night sky.  The oldest star projector of its kind still in use anywhere in the world, it is no longer hidden behind a solid barrier, but is out in the open for all to see.

   "It was basically invented and built by the Kokosz brothers here in Springfield back in the 1930s, there is nothing else like it in the world, so lets let people really have a good look at it," Kopchynski said.

   During the renovations it was feared the historic starball bit the dust.  While being tested, the machine stopped moving with some ominous sounds emanating from it.  But thankfully, Kopchynski said they were able to get it working again.

"We did have to go out to a lawnmower shop and get some belts and replace some belts on some pullies," Kopchynski said. "There is no factory-support, there's nobody to call, and there are no YouTube (DIY) videos. So, it can get a little crazy trying to work in there."

  The starball’s projections are now enhanced by new digital presentations.

  "We were giving shows (using) slide projectors, with about 30 scattered about this room," Kopchynski said.  "We decided 'we are going digital, no more slide projectors'."

  Three shows daily are scheduled at the planetarium.  Each one is different.

  The planetarium seats 90, but attendance is currently being limited to 45 and face masks are required because children under 12, who are not eligible yet to be vaccinated for COVID-19, can be in the auditorium.

  The upgrades to the planetarium are part of a multi-year, multi-million dollar effort to improve the entire Science Museum, said director Mike Kerr.

  "We are going to go through our exhibits from bottom to top and we want to add more interactive components and we want to find more immersive components to really enrich the experience," Kerr said.

  The Springfield Science Museum was founded as a natural history museum in 1859 – the same year Darwin published “On the Origin of Species.”   It houses over 200,000 objects, artifacts, and specimens.

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