Planetarium History

Planetarium History

The money for the Christopher Hall of Science was donated by the parents of H. Ward Christopher who had died in an automobile accident. With donations from other sources, such as the Benedum Foundation, construction on Christopher Hall could begin. The cornerstone was set in 1967 and the planetarium was completed in Dec 1968. 

We received a state-of-the-art Spitz A3P prime projector. This projector was the most common instrument installed in small college planetaria in the 1960's and 1970's and it does an excellent job of representing the night sky for the northern hemisphere. It projects about 1500 stars and uses pinholes for fainter stars and lens projection for the brighter stars. In addition to stars, we also can project the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, the Milky Way band, and the Andromeda Galaxy. One of our neatest tools is the meteor shower simulator and we also have a small orrery to show the planets in orbit around the Sun. Finally, we can project the ecliptic onto the sky and we can show a coordinate grid to demonstrate right ascension and declination. 

The heart of the star projector is a 20 watt Neon or Xenon arc lamp. This lamp produces a very small, but very bright, point of light. The light passes through pinholes and lenses in the main star ball to produce the stars on the 24-ft dome. Our system is entirely analog meaning that a human controls every motion and every light by turning knobs or pressing switches and all of our stars and planets are produced by light bulbs and are not digital images. 

The planetarium was intended to be used for public shows as well as teaching. Professors Hickman and Cole gave regular Sunday afternoon shows until April 1972. In 1981, a group of students, including Larry Rogina, revived the planetarium and gave regular public shows into 1982, but thereafter, the planetarium was only used for teaching and specially arranged school or civic groups. 

Eventually, interest in the planetarium faded until only a few showings for childrens groups would be given - mostly during the summer. During the Fall semester of 2010, we decided to revitalize the planetarium by offering regular public shows again. 

To enhance the planetarium shows, we installed 6 projectors around the perimeter of the room. Two of these projectors were donated by Pamela Balch, Wesleyan's President, and one projector was donated by the sorority Alpha Delta Pi. The purpose of these projectors is to show pictures of the constellation art and deep sky objects located within the highlighted constellations. The only disadvantage of these projectors is that they have to be set up and pointed manually before the show. No, we do not have a fully integrated electronic system. Our star projector is completely separate from our small projectors around the perimeter of the room. 

We also have a high definition NEC NP215 DLP projector that operates in both XGA and WXGA mode. This projector is used to play videos and movies. 

To enhance the video experience we replaced the original Fisher "high fidelity stereophonic" sound system with a new Yamaha RX-V671 AV receiver and Harmon Kardon HKTS 20BQ speakers for 5.1 surround sound. To get 5.1 surround sound out of the laptop computer, we use a Creative Soundblaster X-Fi external USB sound card with THX SB1095.

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West Virginia
Wesleyan College

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Buckhannon, WV 26201
(304) 473-8000

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