Education Manager, Vanessa Rancour, reports on her recent visit to Otago for the Australasian Planetarium Society (APS) conference. We admit a planetarium conference may not sound that exciting to the general public, but we promise it is! Read on to hear more about the new ideas and content Vanessa came away with and how you’ll be seeing these crop up at Stardome in the near future!

Last week, I attended a conference hosted by Otago Museum in Dunedin at the Perpetual Guardian Planetarium. While there is lots I’d love to talk about, I’ve done my best to condense this two-day conference into a summary, as to not bore you!

The conference kicked off with a presentation on projection systems.  This may not seem all that exciting, but I was hooked! I got an insider’s view of some cool things about the new projectors we are currently installing at Stardome.  Neil from Evans & Sutherland gave the presentation, and not only did he install our first digital projectors at Stardome back in 2008, but he is also the one who is currently working away at Stardome installing our new projectors (more on the planetarium upgrade here).  One of my favourite features of these projectors is that the black spaces between the stars will appear darker due to the higher contrast levels attainable. The darker the spaces between the stars are on the dome projection screen, the closer we get to the illusion that we are not looking at a screen at all, but the actual night sky in all its perfection (no clouds attached).  

Later in the day, we watched the planetarium show Tales of a Time Traveller.  It was both educational and entertaining, which I expected coming from E&S along with the Houston Museum of Natural Science (it also didn’t hurt to have the legendary David Tennant narrating it either).  We happen to be adding this show to the Stardome show library! Later this year, we will be screening it for visiting school groups during the day, as well as the public shows in the evenings, which I’m very much looking forward to.

In the Otago Museum’s lecture theatre, we learnt what went into Dr. Ian Griffin’s aurora chasing flight.  It was very interesting finding out how he travelled with NASA aboard SOFIA, their flying observatory, along with Dr. Michelle Dickinson (Nanogirl)).  I was hoping I would catch an aurora myself after hearing that you could see the southern lights from Dunedin on a weekly basis. Unfortunately, I was unable to make it out to a beach with a good view of the southern shoreline, which is where the auroras can be seen. Dr. Ian Griffin is planning a second trip to take passengers to chase down the auroras; however, at almost $2,000 a seat, I will not be able to go on this adventure (maybe next time!) 

Day two started with a sneak peek into Stardome’s new show series, which I presented first thing in the morning.  At the 2015 APS conference, I had pitched the concept of developing a show series based around the different season’s constellations and the myths and legend stories attached to them. Now two years later, I was able to show the (nearly) finished product, and the reaction was incredibly positive. We are hoping to launch Winter Stories in the Sky, the first instalment of the four-part series, at Stardome this June. I am looking forward to getting to share these shows with everyone, so keep an eye out for the launch soon! (MAY 2018 EDIT: Winter Stories in the Sky is now ready for launch. See more here.)

The rest of the day was jam-packed with interesting discussions on ways we can utilise the dome for other educational (and even research) purposes, along with getting to see a lot of other great content in the dome itself.  This included seeing shows being produced from the Otago Museum while getting to check out their planetarium with the use of 3D goggles.  I am not usually a fan of 3D, but I’ll admit that flying to exoplanets in their new show Alien Worlds was rather cool.  It was also interesting to catch one of my favourite planetarium shows We Are Stars in 3D.  However, I do still like the 2D version just as much, if not more, as I’m certainly not a fan of flying (even if it is only a simulation). 

While there is much more I could tell you about the conference, I’ll wrap things up there! Be sure to keep an eye out for new developments at Stardome as I have taken away lots from the weekend that I hope to incorporate into Stardome’s ever-evolving stellar content. 

Stellar Content APS

Above: Group photo from the APS conference. The Stardome team members who attended are Education Manager, Vanessa Rancour (front, second from left) and Public Programmes Team Leader, Tyler Boyd (front, fifth from left).