The Delta College Planetarium • World Class Upgrades Open a Universe of Possibilities

Posted In: News, ,   From Issue 874   By: Robert E Martin

31st January, 2019     0

The Delta College Planetarium & Learning Center, located at 100 Center Avenue in Downtown Bay City is a campus center for Delta College classes combined with a world-class planetarium offering innovative, educational, and entertaining programming to the general public covering a vast array of subjects and targeted to a broad galaxy of demographics.

Funded by an $8.75 million NASA Challenger Grant, the Planetarium houses a 50-foot diameter dome above 146 seats, each wired with a 5-button responder system for audience interaction with whatever program is being presented. Additionally, the planetarium theatre also houses the world’s most modern full-dome digital animation system called Digistar, which takes audiences on realistic voyages through the cosmos and can also offer an unforgettable musical entertainment experience.

Back in August, 2018, the Planetarium underwent a remarkable upgrading making it one of the most unique planetariums in the country.   According to Director Mike Murray, “There are two parts to our recent upgrade: one involves the projectors and the other the control system.”

“Our Digistar control system was last upgraded almost ten years ago and our projection system now uses a new laser-phosphor technology that doesn’t rely upon conventional lamps, but instead uses solid state lasers. Together these two improvements create more detailed imagery along with incredibly deep and vibrant colors for a more realistic viewing experience.”

The new generation Digistar control system combined with the new laser-phosphor projection system also affords a more immediate viewer experience.  “We are the first planetarium in the United States to feature this new laser-phosphor technology; and with the new Digistar system we can go into more real-time terrain maps, similar to the way Google goes with their earth maps, only focus the terrain on other planets,” notes Murray.

“All the data that comes from satellites is fed into data banks that we can now calculate in real time. We can fly to the surface of Mars and see details that viewers have never seen before. Previously, we would have to pull out photographs; but now we can do this in real time.”

Additionally, a larger library of content is now available with the new system.

“All Digistar planetariums around the world can tap into the same library for content and even contribute to the content, so now we have access to a larger collection of original sequences and 3-dimensional space simulations,” Murray said.

Murray explains how the major problem with older projectors is with the illumination source itself. Instead of illuminating the phosphor to create images with one incandescent lamp, we are using a laser light that allows for a wider palette of colors than those displayed from a conventional lamp.” he explains. Plus, the lasers are rated for 10 years, so the image will always retain its strength and vibrancy.”

According to Murray, the upgrades were funded partly through the Delta Planetarium’s Endowment fund, partly through the college, and additional credit advanced from the manufacturer for upgrading the system. “Delta saw the opportunity of being able to take advantage of all this upgrading to keep the planetarium on the front end of show quality and creative potential for students and the community.”

An important side to the upgrade in performance quality is the equal expansion of programming content. “When we do any of our public shows we always finish the program with an epilog of live updates and hot topics that pulls simulations or images from NASA and other sources,” continues Murray. “This gives us a much larger library to put into our live programming. Now we have a lot more creative topics that go beyond space and astronomy. We can offer creative artistic programming and also do more of our own live specials, whether we’re talking about the Northern Lights or the Apollo 11 Anniversary that is coming up.”

“Today you are finding a lot of producers creating full blown feature presentations, so this arena of programming is starting to mature as a medium,” notes Mike. “Digital immersive technology like this has only been around about 15 years and it’s taken awhile for the cinematography techniques to catch up with the technology.”

Since this latest upgrade Murray says the Planetarium has witnessed an increase in public attendance. “We’ve also upgraded all of our sound amplification, as some of our amplifiers were 20-years old. The improvement is akin to taking a blanket off the speakers, which dramatically improves our music-based programs like Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.”

“We now have a total of ten Crown Amplifiers, three digital processors and 22 JBL Speakers behind the cone in clusters. Each of the laser-phosphor projectors retails at over $100,000.  The optics are customized by GOTO Optical and each of the two projectors cover the precise geometry of half the dome. Each assembly is about $65,000 just for the optics.”

“The programming we’ve been selecting reflect modern production values and work incredibly well with this new system,” concludes Mike. “The new show titled Incoming that we’re featuring has remarkable 3-dimensional imagery, color and resolution that is simply breathtaking; and the new version of Dark Side of the Moon starting in February has been updated to a 4K resolution incorporating modern 3-D graphics, so people are going to be totally blown away.”

For a complete listing of upcoming programming at the Delta College Planetarium & Learning Center, go to The Review’ Out & About Events pages or visit their website at or phone them at 989.667.2260. The office and gift shop is open Monday – Thursday 8 am – 7 pm, Friday 8 am – 4 pm and Saturday from 1 – 3:30 pm and 6-7 pm.



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