New technology reveals ‘Unseen Cosmos’

by Hunter Simonson

simonsonhu@mnstate.edu

The planetarium is unveiling a new piece of technology to the public Tuesday at the “Unseen Cosmos.” The planetarium has recently installed a system that syncs up with planetariums worldwide in order to project an identical display at multiple facilities at the same time. After several trials, it’s ready to be unveiled to students and the public in a first-of-its-kind event.

Sara Schultz is the planetarium’s director. She said the technology, called DomeCast, is similar to a webcast, but utilizing dome software instead.

“Basically, planetariums across the world will be coming together to all share in one presentation hosted by the Glasgow Science Center,” she said.

“That is one of the cool things that we have now with the Planetarium, is (it can be) remotely run.” said Juan Cabanela, an astronomy professor. “Basically, both parties agree to have the same software on their machines, and then we say ‘you can take over,’ and we let them take over just the dome.”

Bernie Fanaroff, a Scottish astronomer based at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, will be conducting the show. From his facility in the UK, using the new system, he will broadcast a display of the highest reaches of astronomical knowledge. Fanaroff is also director of the Square Kilometre Array, a system of radio telescopes being built in South Africa and Australia. When construction is completed, by about 2020, the system will, according to the event’s Facebook page, “provide a generational leap in radio astronomy, with 50 times the sensitivity of the best current radio telescopes.”

The Unseen Cosmos seeks to show viewers features of cosmos so distant and veiled they can only be seen using the penetrative properties of radio waves. Our visual perception, as humans, is limited to a small fraction of all available light. Absorbing the abundant radio waves illuminates the night sky in ways unfamiliar to the naked eye.

“Sometimes, there is other gas and dust blocking (astronomical objects), or at times the visible light is too weak to be observed,” Schultz said. “Radio is just one of these waves that helps us uncover deeper layers of all that is out there.”

Uncovering those cosmic layers, before the eyes of an audience at a planetarium, is one way of inspiring curiosity and interest in the general public. Schultz is thrilled by this opportunity to bring world-renowned speakers to our campus for “next to nothing,” she said. “There is even the possibility of posing questions, which brings the live and interactive aspect to us.”

Schultz is hoping, now that the DomeCast system is installed, the Unseen Cosmos will be followed by numerous other shows at the planetarium.

“The plan is that this will be the first of many future events showcasing researchers and their work from across the globe,” she said.

The Unseen Cosmos, part of the David Elder lecture series, takes place Tuesday at 2 p.m. in the planetarium.

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