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Fort Worth Science and History Museum Blasts Into Future

Within, the new Noble Planetarium has been transformed into a state-of-the-art facility with removable bench seating for 100 people, a Zeiss ZKP4 star projector and SPACEGATE Quinto full-dome video projection system.

One of Texas’ top museums has raised the bar for the visitor experience with a vibrant neo-Southwestern design and 166,000 square feet of new exhibit areas including an upgraded IMAX Omni Theater, a new Museum School, and five glass-walled “Innovation Studios” visitors will see as they walk through the main entrance.

Image courtesy Noble Planetarium at the Fort Worth Museum of Science & History

Under the direction of the Mexican architectural partnership Legorreta + Legorreta, assisted by the experienced local firm Gideon Toal, the Fort Worth Museum of Science & History was demolished and then completely reconstructed.

Within, the new Noble Planetarium has been transformed into a state-of-the-art facility with removable bench seating for 100 people, a Zeiss ZKP4 star projector and SPACEGATE Quinto full-dome video projection system controlled by powerdome. This means visitors can now view the bright and natural stars from the optical/mechanical projector along with full-dome video from the SPACEGATE as one complete system.

Working alongside Gideon Toal, England-based Visual Acuity provided architectural design guidance and technology planning from the project’s inception, including advice on audio, video, and cabled infrastructure for the Planetarium itself and its associated pre-show area, where four large screens will show guests up-to-the-second views of the sun piped in live via microwave dishes and fiber networks from a nearby solar observatory, and a computer rack room with support systems for the pre-show area and the Planetarium.

“As part of the rebirth of the Fort Worth Museum of Science & History, the client wanted the Planetarium to be equipped with the very latest A/V and IT systems while retaining its tradition of live presentations and interactive astronomy education,” said Mark Matthews, lead consultant at Visual Acuity. “We worked very closely with the planetarium team to ensure that their requirements were translated into architectural, construction and technical requirements that would deliver the best platform for what the team of astronomy professionals do. The Museum already has a successful Omnimax theater and the last thing they wanted was a system that just played automated canned shows. The system can and does play automated canned shows, but has been optimized for live presentations. Design considerations included the ability for presenters to walk among the audience, easily accessible storage space for prop carts and the console being at the front of the planetarium.”

The live presentations show the Texas sky and begin with the Zeiss ZKP-4 star projector showing a very realistic view of the sky over Fort Worth. Various constellations are discussed with the myths and folk lore from around the world that surrounds the constellation images. The presenter then looks at which planets will be visible that night and how to find them in the sky. Then the audience are taken away from Earth’s surface to go and visit the planets that they have just discussed and see them up close before flying out of the solar system and looking at the far reaching influences of our sun, our galaxy and as far away as scientists have been able to measure to the edge of Cosmic Microwave Background. At the end of the shows, audiences are given practical advice on how they can place red balloons over their flash lights to prevent destroying their night vision, some useful star charts that can be downloaded for free to assist in their own backyard astronomy and other useful tips to encourage the family audiences.

“The ZKP-4 star projector … provides possibly the most realistic recreation of the night sky available,” said Matthews. “When the lights dim and the audience’s eyes adjust to the dark, you can hear gasps in the theater at the beautiful night sky.”

Using the Uniview system from Sweden-based SCISS AB as its main digital visualization platform allows the Noble Planetarium to show visitors real, up-to-date astronomical data. Information from the Internet is fed live into the dome and gives the Museum’s personnel access to the latest astronomical imagery, for example high resolution satellite imagery of Mars, Moon and the Earth.

Even before the public opening in late 2009, guests have been wowed by preview shows at the refurbished Planetarium including the 2009 ASTC Association of Science – Technology Centers annual conference in November 2009.

“The company [Visual Acuity] was completely professional in its approach,” said Planetarium Director Linda Krouse. “They listened carefully to our requirements, drew up suitable specifications, then assisted with their practical implementation with a great on-site team that was flexible and showed great attention to detail. The results are clear for all to see: a Planetarium system unlike anything previously seen in the south-west that is live, educational and, above all, stunning to simply sit and watch!”

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