For years, visitors to the Museum of York Countys planetarium gazed up as a mechanical star ball projected pinpoints of light above to create the celestial night sky, or listened as an analog recording told a story while two-dimensional illustrations floated on the domed ceiling.
Starting Saturday, stargazers will have a more modern place to cast their eyes when the doors to the Settlemyre Planetarium open after two months of renovations.
I look at space as something that captures the imagination, said Carey Tilley, director of the Culture and Heritage Museums. Theres a lot of opportunities for exploration and discovery following whats happening in the skies.
Weve got an opportunity maybe to inspire the first person to walk on Mars through getting kids excited and in touch with their universe and understanding the world they live in and the world beyond.
The more than $300,000 in upgrades included replacing the star ball with a digital projector that will open up the planetarium for new types of programs.
The new technology allows viewers to travel through space, circling planets and exploring their surfaces. The digital system also allows the museum to run programs in other scientific areas such as life and earth sciences.
Other improvements include replacing a display case with a digital flat-screen with a touch screen for interactive activities.
From exploring the African Serengeti, to exploring the stars with Big Bird and friends, the planetarium has several new programs for all ages.
Josh McClellan and Tristan Miller, sixth-graders at Dutchman Creek Middle School, said they learned something after watching the planetariums Ice Worlds, a 25-minute program about water in the universe.
Their class was invited to the museum Friday morning for a sneak peek of the planetarium and related exhibits.
They learned about things going on in the world that they didnt know, such as how the earth has gone through several ice ages.
Thats something Tristan sometimes doesnt want to think about how the earth could again have an ice age.
The system is also capable of capturing live feeds and public domain sources from NASA, Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.
Jim Greenehouse, the planetariums new manager, said the digital technology will allow children to see any place in the universe at any time in history.
And because the real night sky is muted by light pollution, the planetarium allows people to see the dimmer objects like the Milky Way and the stars.
Seeing those phenomena in the theaters artificial sky, Greenhouse said, could inspire people to travel away from the cities where they can see them with the naked eye.
The museum will premier the planetariums new programs at 11 a.m. and throughout today until closing at 5 p.m.
Also new at the museum is an exhibit featuring photographs taken during space shuttle flights. Our World, Our Sky will run until January.
Jamie Self 803-329-4062