SFCC's planetarium is flawed


Published: Sunday, January 4, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 3, 2004 at 9:27 p.m.

Recently, Andy Howell (Dec. 11) asked why Santa Fe Community College has not finished constructing its planetarium. Bob Arndorfer's front page article (Dec. 29), "Lack of funds keeps SFCC from looking to the stars," provided an answer.

However, individuals who might help fund the SFCC planetarium should look carefully at this project before wasting money on its poorly conceived design and construction. Although a planetarium can be a wonderful community resource and an exceptional educational tool, the current planetarium structure at SFCC shows that many of those in charge seem "not know which way is up."

Earlier this year, I visited the present SFCC building housing the planetarium theater and immediately noticed numerous design and construction flaws. Many fundamental mistakes make the current structure laughable to anyone who has even rudimentary knowledge of planetarium design and operation.

Walls painted white, poorly designed seats, doors that leak light and lack of proper electric service for the main and auxiliary projectors begin the list. The dome lacks a proper "cove" for any auxiliary projectors, a necessity in any modern planetarium.

In addition, the dome's "spring" (horizon) line is too high. Consequently, most visitors will need to look "up" to see their horizon as if viewing the sky from a hole in the ground. The planetarium's unfortunately small dome size complicates this problem and will also produce severe distortion of the sky.

The building lacks dark entrance and exit corridors that ruin the ambience of the sky theater and make it difficult for visitors to see when leaving the planetarium.

I commend SFCC for attempting to give our community the most wonderful multimedia tool invented, something the University of Florida has been unwilling to do for the last 25 years. But it appears that SFCC did not adequately plan and design this facility, or hire and consult with those experienced in this area.

Andy Howell correctly wrote SFCC should innovate and finish the planetarium. Completion of the SFCC planetarium will be an exceptional gift to our community, except that it will take more innovation and money to finish it right than most realize.

Howard L. Cohen, Associate Professor Emeritus of Astronomy, University of Florida,

Gainesville

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