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Sky Theater lights up the minds of curious astronomers

Sky Theater lights up the minds of curious astronomers

Denton, Texas The Sky Theater Planetarium at UNT is a 100 seat theater with a 40-foot domed screen that accurately renders the night sky through a full-color, HD projection system. The theater features weekly shows that present a variety of content. Photo Credit: David Urbanik

Sky Theater lights up the minds of curious astronomers
July 24
18:12 2017

For thousands of years, people have stared up at the night sky and assigned patterns to the stars. Creatures and characters from ancient cultures all over the world, including the mythological Greek and Roman gods, have shown through the darkness to light up the imaginations of anyone willing to look up.

In modern times, it’s possible to study these celestial bodies at any time of day under the expert guidance of trained astronomers and the use of planetariums, which are unique auditorium-like theaters that project the stars and other video content onto large domed screens above an audience.

UNT is home to one of these theaters.

Tucked away in the Environmental Education, Science & Technology building located at the northwest corner of UNT campus is the Sky Theater, a 100-seat, 40-foot theater which showcases a full-color, HD projection system. The Sky Theater features regular weekly shows that present a variety of content that rotates on a monthly basis.

“Our Sky Theater is like attending a movie theater of steroids,” planetarium director Ronald Diiulio said. “The screen and sound are all around you.”

Planetariums like the Sky Theater allow for the night sky to be simulated for astronomy education and entertainment purposes. Classes are held in the theater, and the planetarium also hosts a variety of school field trips.

While planetariums can be compared to traditional theater screens, planetarium manager Ryan Bennett said UNT’s planetarium is anything but ordinary.

“This creates an immersive experience all around you, rather than just in front of you like a traditional theater,” Bennett said. “In addition to having software that lets you travel through the universe and observe celestial motions, the projection system allows for the viewing of any 360-degree video which opens up a very wide range of immersive entertainment options which doesn’t necessarily have to just involve astronomy.”

There are hundreds of digital dome theaters throughout the United States, and with each planetarium comes an array of features specific to that location.

One aspect of the Sky Theater that makes it unique from other planetariums is the fact that some of the content shown during the shows is produced in house by the astronomers at the college.

“I would say that it is about half and half,” Diiulio said. “Some of the programs are leased or purchased, and the other half are produced in house, including script, visuals, narrators and music and special effects.”

The programs shown at the Sky Theater are meant to appeal to an audience of all ages by including various interactive presentations from the astronomers.

“Most of the programs are astronomy based and are geared towards all ages,” Bennett said. “Every show also has a night sky talk at the end where we bring up what the sky will look like that evening and show where you can find different constellations and astronomical objects.”

The theater is also available to be reserved for private parties and special occasions.

“The main difference between a private and public show is that private groups get to pick what show they want to watch and we tend to do a little more questions and answers with our private audiences,” Bennett said. “More recently we have also rented the facility to people interested in using it for their own shows such as the Pink Floyd laser show we did last spring.”

The theater is popular with local residents.

Denton residents Ronnie and Diane Allen, who brought their grandchildren to see the show, appreciate having a full-size planetarium close to home. The other planetariums in the area are around Dallas, so the Allen’s use the Sky Theater to help teach their grandchildren about the world around them.

“Rather than having to go all the way to the planetarium at the science museum in Fort Worth, it is nice to have something like this close by,” Diane said. “It’s a great educational activity we can do with the kids, especially for our grandchildren who are already interested in space.”

The Sky Theater holds three showings at noon, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. every Saturday. Admission prices range from $3 to $5 with the entire program usually lasting about an hour.

Featured Image: The Sky Theater Planetarium at UNT is a 100-seat theater with a 40-foot domed screen that accurately renders the night sky through a full-color, HD projection system. The theater features weekly shows that present a variety of content. David Urbanik

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David Urbanik

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