Planetarium projector

The Bays Mountain Park planetarium’s star projector will soon undergo needed maintenance, while its five surrounding obsolete digital projectors will be replaced with six newer models. The new projectors will display at a higher resolution, produce a brighter image, and offer a higher contrast.

By MATTHEW LANE

KINGSPORT — The planetarium at Bays Mountain Park will soon be getting a significant upgrade. Consider it Planetarium 2.0.

Earlier this month, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen approved the funding for an improvement project for the planetarium theater.

The $1.2 million project calls for replacing the old digital projectors with new ones, performing maintenance on the star projector (the large device that resembles a dumbbell in the center of the room), installation work and the replacement of the seat covers and cushions.

Planetarium Director Adam Thanz said the plan is to begin pulling stuff out of the theater around the first of the year and to close the planetarium for two and a half months while the renovations and upgrades are taking place.

“It’s the natural progression of what needs to occur, mainly because the digital equipment that’s in the theater is well past its lifetime,” Thanz said. “This (project) is providing not only the necessary replacement, but also the necessary improvement to quality so we’re on par of where we should be with the theater.”

PREVIOUS RENOVATION

The planetarium has been one of Bays Mountain Park’s main draws for years. However, about 12 years ago the theater was showing its age and something needed to be done to bring it into the 21st century.

That’s why Kingsport signed off on a $1.3 million overhaul of the planetarium back in 2009, completely gutting the theater; removing the equipment, seats and flooring; and installing a state-of-the-art digital star projector, a 40-foot dome, 6.1 Surround Sound, an LED lighting system, a new sloped floor, and theater-style seats.

The crown jewel of the theater was the new star projector, a Carl Zeiss ZKP-4 model from the renowned German company Zeiss. Founded in 1846, Zeiss is a leader in optical systems and optoelectronics and made the first modern planetarium projector in 1924.

Today, the planetarium has become an even greater draw for the park, allowing visitors to watch state-of-the-art programs on space, the constellations, the night sky and the solar system. The star projector is so precise that viewers can use binoculars to see details in dozens of deep-sky objects.

However, like all technology, updates and upgrades are necessary.

DETAILS OF THE PROJECT

The planetarium currently has five digital projectors that surround the central star projector. According to the renovation plan, Thanz said these will be removed and replaced with six digital projectors. The benefits will be clear — literally. The digital projectors will display at a higher resolution (4,300 pixels compared to 4,096), produce a brighter image (about five times brighter) and offer a higher contrast (2.5 million to one).

“The star projector is going to get serviced, which it needs, and we’re replacing the analog light source to an LED light source,” Thanz said. “This improvement will increase the brightness of the stars up to five times.”

Finally, a small amount of money in the project will go toward the cost of installing the digital projectors (which will be mounted on the perimeter of the theater), making the stands for them, performing some electrical work and replacing the seat covers and cushions.

“Even if we wanted to use current technology, it’s no longer being produced,” said Park Manager Rob Cole. “We can’t buy the components to simply repair or maintain our current projector system. It just doesn’t exist any more.”