Asking “What’s up?” at Ingram Planetarium is a loaded question at any time, but especially in this new year after a month of major renovations.
The only planetarium in the coastal Carolinas, which will reach its 15-year anniversary in May, began this new year with a month of major upgrades, in and outside its red brick walls in Sunset Beach, N.C.
Will Snyder, manager since December 2015, said the main renovations comprise new computer projection system and lighting systems in the Sky Theater domed auditorium. The computers that generate the simulated panoramic images of stars, planets and other celestial objects had tallied nine years of use, “practically a lifetime in computerland,” he said, explaining that personnel have coped with some system crashes and failures during shows in the past year.
The new computers will let the planetarium enhance immensely its role in “simulating the universe,” Snyder said, and showcase other planets and stars that researchers continue discovering, also with updates on planets’ surface areas.
Shifting to light-emitting diode illumination marks another major improvement in the theater, Snyder said, because blue and yellow had been the main hues, “and now, we’ll have millions of color combinations, literally, and we’ll add them to our laser shows.”
The musical showcases with lasers, which had been grouped in evenings one weekend a month, will return with “The Beatles Sing-A-Long!” on March 4, then a different show in a rotation weekly through April 8, and on April 29 and May 6 and 13.
“We’re trying to do it on Saturdays,” Snyder said, “to see how that goes, especially with the new systems, ... and we’ve added 3D atmospheric fog. Instead of seeing lasers atop the dome, the lasers will project atop the audience. It will certainly be an immersive experience.”
He also likes the extra live element for laser shows, because the host, “depending on who’s doing it,” can vary each presentation through the array of lasers and LEDs.
Another improvement from through Ingram’s new systems: Updates about anything outer space related will be incorporated daily, Snyder said, citing such scenarios of the placement of a satellite into orbit, or discovery of an asteroid or planet around a star. He foresees “the biggest story” of 2017 coming Aug. 21 with South Carolina front and center in the shadow to be cast. He also cited discovery last August of a planet, Proxima Centauri, circling Alpha Centauri, the closest star to our sun, four light years away from Earth.
“In terms of space,” he said, “that’s practically next door.”
Taking in heavens through telescopes
Free telescope observation sessions, begun last summer with “really great success,” with turnout of 50-60 people each evening, will resume with two dates on weekends in April and May, Snyder said. The “Stars at Sunset” Sky Theater shows also continue, at regular admission prices, at 7 p.m. first Friday monthly – Feb. 3, March 3, April 7, and May 5 – with the session each month covering different subjects as peering into the heavens changes year round. “Love Is in the Stars,” in which Snyder will share a sampling of ancient love stories immortalized in constellations, will take flight at 7 p.m. Feb. 11.
Venus has remained the most visible planet this winter with the naked eye, Snyder said, naming Saturn, with its rings and moons, as the most captivating for crowds to see through a telescope – with “Wow and “Oh, my gosh” reactions – because it looks as rich and almost as storybook and artificial as seen in pictures.
A weather station also has been installed rooftop at the planetarium, through a grant from ATMC, a cooperative that provides telephone, cable TV, Internet and security services across Brunswick County. Snyder said through their cell phones, local residents can tap into weather data, and see rich sunsets from the camera. The planetarium – named after Stuart Ingram, a World War II airman – is part of the Ocean Isle Museum Foundation Inc., which he founded. The nonprofit that also owns and manages the Museum of Coastal Carolina, opened in 1991, nearby in Ocean Isle Beach, N.C.
“Only 4 miles apart,” said Linzy Cook, the foundation’s marketing coordinator, “these facilities pack a one-two punch full of educational programs, shows, and fun for all.”
A Pittsburgh-area native, Snyder said “the nicest mix” of couples of all ages, and families, who turn out make this market nice in which to work, and that family memberships are available, covering the planetarium and museum. He also credited the estimated 130 volunteers at both sites, including “retired teachers, and science people who worked for such big companies as Lockheed Martin.”
“We could not do anything without their help,” Snyder said.
He also summarized patrons’ common initial reactions upon visiting the planetarium as “I didn’t even know it was here.”
“Most schools have to travel many miles to visit such a facility,” said Terry Bryant, the foundation’s executive director, “but we have one in our own back yard.”
Asked how planetariums, like art museums, each afford a totally different experience from another, Snyder said “each place has certain things customized to it,” and that Ingram always has least one show per business day geared to younger children. Be sure, too to explore in the exhibit hall, with ViewSpace, a continuous broadcast showing the latest NASA developments,
“And the great thing about astronomy,” Snyder said, “is you could spend your whole life learning about it, and only scratch the surface.”
Contact Steve Palisin at 843-444-1764.
If you go
WHAT: Sky Theater dome shows
WHERE: Ingram Planetarium, 7625 High Market St., Sunset Beach, N.C.
WHAT PLAYS WHEN: Fridays-Saturdays (and open April 10-13, during schools’ spring break, in week after Easter)–
▪ Through May 20 – “The Sky Tonight! – Live” at noon.
▪ Through March 31 – “Undiscovered Worlds” 1 p.m., “Earth, Moon & Sun” 2 p.m., and “Two Small Pieces of Glass” 3 p.m.
▪ April 1-May 20 – “From Earth to the Universe” 1 p.m., “Accidental Astronaut” 2 p.m., and “Dynamic Earth” 3 p.m.
▪ Laser music shows, each 7 p.m. – “The Beatles Sing-A-Long!” March 4, “Classic Rock Night” March 11, Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” (not recommended for young children) March 18, Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” March 25, Led Zeppelin April 1, Michael Jackson April 8, Country April 29, “’80s Night” May 6, and Metallica May 13.
▪ “Stars at Sunset,” 7 p.m. first Friday monthly – Feb. 3, March 3, April 7, and May 5.
▪ Free “Starwatch” telescope observations (no admission fee) – 8 p.m. April 7 and 22, and May 5 and 20.
▪ Special events, all 7 p.m. – “Love Is in the Stars” Feb. 11, “Pi Day” March 14 for free, fifth annual N.C. Statewide Star Party” April 22 for free , and Ingram’s 15th birthday party May 20.
HOW MUCH: Per show/event – $9.50 ages 13-61, $8.50 ages 62 and older, $7.50 ages 3-12, and free ages 2 and younger.
ANNUAL MEMBERSHIP: $75 individual, $100 family (two adults and as many as four children younger than 18), and $130 family (with extra two adults and two guests) – and dual deal with Museum of Coastal Carolina, 21 E. Second St., Ocean Isle Beach, N.C. (910-579-1016) for $110, $150 and $225, respectively.
DEER AT MUSEUM: See a piebald (a recessive genetic trait with irregular patterns of light and dark) white-tailed deer, estimated at 2-3 years in age, 11 a.m. Saturday. Free with museum admission (same as planetarium show rates). 910-575-1016.
INFORMATION: 910-575-0033 or museumplanetarium.org