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Published August 27, 2020
Since mid-March, the University of Wyoming Harry C. Vaughan Planetarium has been dark. There has been no sun, moon or stars since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of planned programming in the venue during the spring and summer.
But, that will all change soon. Beginning Tuesday, Sept. 8, the planetarium will be available to rent for private events with limited numbers in attendance. Max Gilbraith, the planetarium coordinator, is hopeful regular programming will return later in September.
“The good news is that we are finished with our summer upgrades and are ready to safely welcome our patrons back this fall,” Gilbraith says. “Later this fall, we hope to have general admission shows again.”
Gilbraith encourages the public to coordinate with family and friends to reserve an “intimate personal planetarium experience.” To accommodate smaller groups, the planetarium will be sharply reducing its private show costs from $60 an hour and will tailor rates to group size. For a quote, call (307) 766-6506 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
While the planetarium was shuttered, the downtime was used to work with Sky-Skan Digital Planetariums to upgrade the planetarium’s existing system with new graphic cards, operating system and control software. During July, one of the planetarium’s four computers, which renders visuals and audio in the planetarium, was upgraded at the company’s New Hampshire headquarters.
Following that improvement, Sky-Skan staff traveled to Laramie to upgrade the planetarium’s remaining computers and trained staff in the new capabilities of the system, which Gilbraith describes as “2020 state of the art.”
Additionally, the Associated Students of UW awarded the planetarium a grant, which was used to purchase an experimental virtual reality control system for the planetarium.
“We are tinkering with that and hope to unveil it in the fall, allowing for visual arts to come to the dome more easily,” Gilbraith says.
Due to COVID-19, personal protective equipment was secured for planetarium staff; appropriate signage was created for the theater; and the staff was tested for COVID-19 prior to the planetarium reopening.
“Obviously, we’ve got a lot of new rules and procedures to implement,” Gilbraith says.
When fall shows resume, they will be limited to eight parties with a total of no more than 23 guests, he says. The planetarium, located in the basement of the Physical Sciences Building, can typically seat 64 guests. That number will be limited to comply with campus social distancing rules. Reservations will be required for all guests to the planetarium and they will be encouraged to pay by credit card or check.
Fall shows, starting in late September, will be scheduled Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Friday night shows start at 8 p.m. Saturday’s schedule has 2 p.m. family double features of full-dome movies and/or 8 p.m. programs or music visualization shows. Tuesday night shows begin at 7 p.m.
Tickets are $3 for students and $5 for nonstudents. Tickets can be purchased at the Department of Physics and Astronomy main office, located in Room 204 of the Physical Sciences Building, Monday through Thursday, from 8 a.m.-5 p.m., and Friday from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Tickets also can be purchased by going online at www.uwyo.edu/physics/planetarium and clicking on “Purchase tickets online with a credit card.” Doors open 20 minutes before the show, where tickets will be sold if available.
For more detailed descriptions of future programs or to view current free online programs, go to www.uwyo.edu/physics/planetarium/schedule.html.