Bays Mountain prepares to unveil new planetarium

Rain Smith • Jan 21, 2009 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — The holidays have come and gone, but Jason Dorfman is still as giddy as a child on Christmas Eve.

Of course, he’s been that way for about a year, his excitement building with each shipment of materials to Bays Mountain Park. And after months of patient waiting, the gift will finally be unwrapped for the public on March 7, when the park’s newly remodeled planetarium will hold its grand opening.

Dorfman, planetarium educator and technician for the park, believes the facility will now be on par with other top-notch planetariums on the East Coast. With its fiber-optic star systems, LED lighting, surround sound and 360-degree video screen immersion, he says one would have to travel to Atlanta or Washington, D.C., for a comparable experience.

The finishing touches are still being put in place, with the centerpiece — a projection system from Germany — scheduled to be installed next month.

The new optical mechanical star machine will be similar to the old one, which was 35 years old, with a few key differences: It incorporates fiber optics, with each star created by its own fiber-optic strand.

“That really creates a very realistic, point-like looking star field,” Dorfman said. “It’s going to be quite incredible.”

Complementing the star projector to create dazzling programs is a new full-dome video system.

“With the video we can take you out into the solar system, fly you out around the planets,” Dorfman said. “We can take you out beyond our solar system, into the galaxy, and even out into the rest of the universe and look back and see what it looks like. Because the video is all around you, it really is an immersive environment.”

All the high-tech equipment needs a canvas on which to play, prompting the construction of a new, cleaner and sleeker dome.

As galaxies unfurl above, visitors will spread out in the planetarium’s posh new chairs. In fact, the entire seating arrangement has been altered, with a slight decline in slope from back to front. This will allow, from any seat in the house, easy viewing of program presenters at the front of the facility.

The new planetarium’s maiden program is titled “Connections.” The show — created by the Bays Mountain Planetarium staff through animation, modeling and 3-D design — will illustrate how nature and astronomy tie together.

“The show now will have different animals, including deer, butterfly, chipmunks, a little bit of everything,” said Adam Thanz, planetarium director. “We’re not going to give away all the bells and whistles for this show, but it will be a really good idea of what we can produce.”

The price tag of the planetarium overhaul was $1.3 million. It was funded through Kingsport’s Visitor Enhancement Program, which was founded to support a variety of tourism-related projects. The planetarium has hosted about 250,000 visitors in the past decade.

Recommended for You