Because Georgia has several major planetariums scattered throughout the state, the planetarium experience is within easy driving distance of most Georgians. Planetariums have revolutionized the way astronomy is taught, especially to young students and the general public.
In Georgia, National Science Foundation funding during the late 1960s and 1970s gave a boost to planetarium construction, including expensive projects for public high schools as well as science centers and university physics departments. At the same time competitive production of turnkey (fully equipped) planetariums brought down ticket prices, and star projectors came within the reach of smaller schools and museums around the state.
Planetariums in Education
In 1967 one of the earliest first-class planetariums in Georgia was erected at the Fernbank Science Center. It was financed by philanthropic gift and by National Defense Education Act matching funds (half federal and half local) and the DeKalb County Board of Education. The center's mission is to enhance Georgia's public and private school curriculums.
Digital planetariums offer the option of showing more than just stars. They can be programmed to offer trips to the bottom of the oceans or down into the volcanoes of Hawaii. Specialized programs using lasers and computer animation allow audiences to journey through the human body. Newer digital planetariums offer far more program options, but the quality of the star field does not yet compete favorably with the older, more expensive optical machines, which continue to sell to a wealthier market.
Planetariums that operate for the public are normally open during school hours and on weekends. Among planetariums there is a wide variety of program options. Some facilities offer very basic astronomy programs with no special effects or gadgetry, while other, more publicly oriented facilities may offer elaborate productions involving months and even years of preproduction. Contemporary planetarium programs may be complete with animations, laser graphics, state-of-the-art sound, and specially commissioned music.
The Southeastern Planetarium Association (SEPA) is a professional organization formed to support planetariums and staff in the Southeast. Made up of professional astronomers and science educators, SEPA helps set the standard for planetarium productions. The first meeting was held at the Fernbank Science Center in 1971. SEPA currently lists the Fernbank, Coca-Cola Space Science Center, Mark Smith Planetarium, and Rollins Planetarium as members from Georgia.
At least two Georgia planetariums, Fernbank and the Coca-Cola Center, belong to the International Planetarium Society, the largest group of planetarium professionals in the world. This group of more than 600 planetariums shares astronomy and space-science resources with astronomy educators around the world. There is also a Georgia consortium of planetariums, which meets regularly to discuss new trends and programming opportunities. In some instances they team to produce new programs that can be sold or given to smaller institutions.
Carole Rutland, Columbus State University
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