Bishop Planetarium's high-tech upgrade merits a visit

November 6, 2013 

The galaxy on the dome of the new world-class $500,00 planetarium. PHOTO PROVIDED

Ever gaze up at the stars on clear night and wonder about the universe? How far does it go? Science tells us the universe stretches billions of light years. If the universe is somehow a finite thing, what's on the other side?

Of course, humans cannot answer that but it's intriguing nonetheless. And that's the joy in star-gazing and contemplating our own small planet in comparison with the biggest picture imaginable. And that's the great thing about Bishop Planetarium, especially with its state-of-the-art upgrade in technology.

The South Florida Museum's stellar attraction now holds a new computer and projection system "light years" ahead of the old one, to quote Herald writer Marty Clear from a recent article. The $500,000 system projects images far brighter with greater contrast than the previous one. The public is invited to a free preview of this technology Thursday from 5 to 7:30 p.m. during an open house.

Imagine a visit to the edge of the observable universe, well past our own comparatively tiny solar system and beyond the Milky Way -- so far away this galaxy we call home is a mere speck.

Scientists define the "observable universe" as about 46 billion light years in radius. Some physicists speculate that our universe is only one of many that exist, a difficult thing to imagine for sure.

Since mankind can only view a small slice of the universe because of the limitations in the speed of light, we cannot know if this universe is finite or infinite.

Less mind-boggling is the planetarium's images of Earth, with pictures of volcanoes and storms as they happen, Clear noted.

Jeff Rogers, the planetarium's director, told the Herald that visitors will notice the difference between the old and new systems immediately. We can vouch for that.

This is quite a remarkable turnaround for a planetarium destroyed in a 2001 fire and finally rebuilt in 2005. The upgrade in technology should improve on Bishop's annual visitor count of 75,000 people, and will be another tool in the marketing of Bradenton to the tourism industry.

The price is right for a planetarium show on Thursday -- free. We highly recommend it.

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