A sense of wonder takes hold the moment you step inside the newly refurbished Sharpe Planetarium at the Memphis Pink Palace Museum. The planetarium’s grand opening took place January 30, but I joined a group of museum family members to view the new show Firefall during the museum’s recent Member’s Night.
The planetarium has undergone a complete facelift. When you enter the room, it feels like you are boarding a space shuttle; although this one is more spacious, with comfy seats that face a staging area. The new full-dome digital video immerses you as the night sky opens up and wraps around you like a quilt. Soon you’re transported into outer space via stunning audio-visual effects and a cinema-standard sound system.
“Digital projectors permit us to visualize our dreams of space travel,” notes Dave Maness, Sharpe Planetarium supervisor. “Every known star, nebula, planet, moon, and star cluster (along with many comets and asteroids) is shown with a high degree of accuracy.”
Memphis Astronomical Society (MAS) was instrumental in the opening of the original planetarium in December 1954. Society members later installed the planetarium’s optical mechanical projector in 1978. It replaced the original Spitz model A-1 projector now on display at the Pink.
“The old projector helped look at stars and gave a good approximation of the night sky, but limited our point of view to planet Earth,” points out MAS member Richard Townley, one of the planetarium operators. With the new projector, you can enjoy a show — like Firefall, a stunning feature that describes how the earth has been shaped by comets and asteroids — all in 3D. The immersive image at times gives you a sense of motion and the accompanying music and sound effects enhance the experience of the asteroid impact.
The Herman family were impressed; they brought their children Trevor (17) and Charlotte (10) to the opening.
“The whole screen was up in your face and the way the chairs were placed made it easier to watch the show without having to look back,” observes Charlotte, who was writing a note to her science teacher about their visit.
Firefall is suitable for children ages 8+. One World, One Sky: Big Bird’s Adventure is perfect for preschoolers (9:45 a.m. Saturdays). Other shows include Seasonal Stargazing (2 p.m. daily and noon on Saturdays) and Astronaut (4 p.m. daily).
“The planetarium gives a place where everyone can see the sky clearly and be inspired just as our ancestors were,” concludes Maness. “With the new projector, we hope to take visitors on simulated trips through the solar system and the universe beyond using real images captured by probes and telescopes.”
For more information, go to MemphisMuseums.org or call 636-2362.