If you’ve been to the Udvar-Hazy Center lately, perhaps you’ve seen what looks like a giant blue igloo and wondered what it could be. Believe it or not, it’s a planetarium. This portable, inflatable planetarium is the latest tool in the arsenal of the Museum’s Education Division, and will help students understand astronomical concepts and make science enjoyable.
The portable dome is made of opaque fabric, navy blue on the outside and dark gray inside. It folds up and operates much like an inflatable mattress, only inflation is done with a fan and the fan stays on low during the show. Once inflated, which takes only five minutes, entry is through a six-foot tall zippered door, like a tent. There is no bottom or seats--the audience sits on the floor. The dome holds 35 to 40 people at a time. The planetarium’s projector is a state-of-the-art digital system that displays the night sky, outlines the constellations, simulates celestial phenomena such as eclipses, shows the orbits of the planets, and performs other planetarium demonstrations. It even allows Museum educators to project their own images and videos, thus creating their own shows. The planetarium was purchased in part thanks to a grant from the Smithsonian Women’s Committee. Soon, when the Museum has a team of presenters trained to use the new system, we will offer astronomy programs to the public, school groups, and guests at special events.