PHOTO BY FLICKR USER TOM HALL
Last weekend, I watched in awe as comets darted across the night sky; wispy blurs of light fizzling out as quickly as they came into view. But there was no meteor shower. And it happened to be a Saturday morning here in Memphis. This up-close look into space was all thanks to the newly renovated Sharpe Planetarium at the Pink Palace Museum, which celebrated its grand opening January 30th.
Since December 1954, the planetarium's former mechanical/optical projector showed us the inner workings of the universe. Renovations began in 2014 to upgrade to full-dome digital video in what is now the fully modernized, high-tech AutoZone Dome at the Sharpe Planetarium.
Among the grand opening ceremony attendees were Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, corporate representatives from AutoZone, and a few people who had a hand in the project, including representatives from Japanese technology company, Konica Minolta, and Miami-based Magna-Tech Electronic Co., as well as local architects from ANF Architects, and contractors from Barnes & Brower.
Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell speaks at the grand opening ceremony.
The upgraded planetarium is more spacious; the outer walls were pushed back a few feet, making room for more seating. The comfy seats recline and are lined in rows, rather than in a circle around the room, similar to a movie-viewing experience. The new full-dome video is fully immersive; as you look up and around, the sky blankets the ceiling dome. There's space in the front of the room that could (and hopefully in the future will) be used as a staging area for live entertainment under the dome's star show. The planetarium's programming is controlled via an iPad, and its controller can choose any point in the universe to zoom in on and explore.
Steve Pike, Pink Palace director of museums, says, “The full-dome theater shows are spectacular, and they are only part of the story. Our new digital capacity makes the planetarium interactive. We can take you to the farthest corners of the known universe and anywhere else in it in the blink of an eye.”
The planetarium's upcoming show schedule includes "Firefall," a gripping feature that highlights how impacts from comets and asteroids have shaped the earth's and other planets' surfaces. Also on the bill is "Seasonal Stargazing," a show that explores constellations and specific stars. "Astronaut" allows show-goers to experience a rocket launch from the perspective of an astronaut and "explore the amazing worlds of inner and outer space, from floating around the International Space Station to maneuvering through microscopic regions of the human body." For a full list of show times, check out the schedule here.
Stepping inside the new planetarium feels a little like boarding a spaceship. The walls are lined with LED lights, and the pinks and blues are reminiscent of space.