There’s nothing like stargazing in the summer, and Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey may have you more interested in the night sky and our stars than ever. Luckily, the Hudson River Museum is giving you new reason to indulge your inner astronomer, giving its on-site Planetarium a $1.5-million overhaul.
It’s okay if you were underwhelmed before. Previously, the Planetarium relied on a patchwork of DVD and slot projector working with a system that was installed in the mid ’80s. “Over time, the shows got simpler and simpler because I simply couldn’t rely on the equipment to do what it was supposed to do,” says Marc Taylor, the Museum’s manager of Planetarium and science programs. “You couldn’t really focus on teaching because you were more worried that something was going to jam and you’d have to climb up a ladder in the dark to try to fix it.”
No longer. This winter, the Hudson River Museum installed the Definiti 4K Hybrid System—basically a star projector, called “the Megastar,” and two digital video projectors that work in tandem with it. (The sound system and dome surface were upgraded, too.) So the Megastar, for example, can project a certain area of the night sky, and the video projectors can trace the lines of a constellation—or the path of a spacecraft, or a group of clouds—on top of it.
“We’re no longer limited to showing the sky as it looks from Earth in still images,” Taylor says. “We have access to a 3D database of the entire known universe. We can speed up time. We can run time backwards. We can freeze time. We can bring in contemporary information. If there was a satellite that was just launched, we can enter the parameters for that satellite and know exactly where to look for it in the sky.”
This means that the Planetarium’s live demonstrations can truly be tailored to the interest of the audience, depending on the visitors’ questions. “We basically have all the images and all the video that you could want at our fingertips,” Taylor says.
He’s not exaggerating—the Megastar projects 10 million stars. “In the Megastar, the Milky Way is not just this sort of gray cloud that’s projected up on the dome,” he says. “It’s actually individual dots, which correspond to the actual position of individual stars, so it looks very much like the real thing looks.”
“I’ve seen the sky from the Australian outback,” Taylor adds, “and this is the closest I’ve ever seen to something like that.” • Hudson River Museum, Yonkers (914) 963-4550; www.hrm.org. The live Planetarium demonstrations, titled “The Sky Tonight,” take place every Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm. Museum admission: adult, $6; youth (3 to 18 years), $3; seniors (62+) and students with ID, $4. Planetarium tickets: adults, $4; youth (3 to 18 years), $2; seniors (62+) and students with ID, $3.