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First look: Inside the Museum of Science's newly-renovated Hayden planetarium

Posted by Scott Kirsner  February 9, 2011 04:58 PM

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zeiss.jpgIf you want to make the day's intra-office squabbles and your endless to-do list seem insignificant, nothing beats a trip out past the perimeter of the Milky Way galaxy. The journey, inside the Museum of Science's just-renovated Charles Hayden planetarium, dramatically improved my afternoon today. Sitting behind his control panel, planetarium systems coordinator Darryl Davis (pictured below) steered me around the universe, showing me the Beehive nebula, the orbits of Jupiter's many moons, and what the night sky will look like on our own planet about two hours after sunset tonight.

The museum spent $9 million on the planetarium's overhaul, including $2 million for a new Zeiss Starmaster Projector that's parked on a platform at the auditorium's core. It uses light and fiber optics to splash an array of stars on the planetarium's 57-foot dome, made of perforated aluminum panels. (There's only one other projector like it in the U.S.) Augmenting the Zeiss are two Sony high-resolution digital projectors, tucked away on opposite sides of the dome.

davis.jpgMuseum types don't like to brag, but it may be the best-equipped planetarium in the U.S. today. (The seats are comfy, too.) The resolution is so good that you can take a pair of binoculars with you — planetarium director David Rabkin lent me a pair — to bring the finest astronomical details into focus. The museum has also created a brand-new, half hour show, "Undiscovered Worlds," which explores newly-discovered planets that orbit stars similar to our sun.

Tonight, there's a press preview, and tomorrow night, VIPs will fill the planetarium's 209 seats. Among those expected Thursday are Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, New York City Mayor (and Medford native) Michael Bloomberg, and U.S. Senator Scott Brown. Friday, there's a "Tweetup Under the Stars," accessible only to a lucky few folks who are fans of the museum on Facebook or who follow its Twitter account. Saturday, there are shows for museum members, and on Sunday, the planetarium opens to the public (though there have been sporadic test shows inside it since mid-December.)

My take: there's no better mid-winter destination in Boston. (Especially if you play hooky from work...)

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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