Despite concerns over stagnant attendance at numerous facilities, optimism about the future of planetariums remains high among participants of the 16th meeting of the International Planetarium Society taking place this week at Exploration Place in Wichita, Kansas. More than 400 delegates from planetariums around the world are attending this biennial meeting that has a theme of "New Explorations."
Many are calling this conference a watershed because digital image projection in domed theaters has come to the fore since the last meeting in Montreal, Canada, two years ago. Optical-mechanical star-field projectors, the mainstay of planetariums since "the Wonder of Jena" star projector was first unveiled in Jena, Germany, in 1923, are giving way to digital video-projection systems. These new systems can "do it all" — project stars, video sequences, and dome-filling imagery — thereby eliminating the need for dozens of ancillary projectors that can be costly to build and maintain.
Most delegates to the conference expected to see the continued evolution of all-dome (immersive) video systems designed for large public planetariums — those with dome diameters larger than 50 feet. What wasn't anticipated is the proliferation of digital projectors designed to perform in medium-size domes.
While new technology dominates the gathering, other topics are being addressed during the four-day-long conference. Of particular concern is the ongoing need for high-quality programming, whether it's for presentation in major public facilities or small, school-based star theaters. Technical workshops on various production techniques, programming ideas for portable planetariums, and a variety of paper sessions are also generating much lively discussion.