Soon children and adults alike will be able to soar through the rings of Jupiter, dodging solar storms from the comfort of their seats at the downtown planetarium.
The Irene W. Pennington Planetarium at the Louisiana Art and Science Museum will undergo a $970,000 renovation this fall that will enable 3-D programming.
The renovation will include the installation of digital projectors with 3-D capability, new seats that will increase seating capacity from 143 to 170, painting the planetarium dome to increase reflectivity, and installing new carpet and lighting.
The planetarium will close Aug. 1 for renovations and is tentatively set to reopen before Thanksgiving, but the rest of the museum will remain open.
Adding 3-D technology will boost the planetarium’s theater to the forefront of the competition across the nation, said Jon Elvert, the director of the planetarium.
The planetarium will not be showing 3-D movies; rather it will be largely devoted to educational programming that’s designed for the dome-shaped venue.
One of the first featured programs will be called “Wildest Weather in the Solar System,” a 3-D experience illustrating solar storms, tornadoes on Mars, hurricanes on Jupiter and other outer space weather phenomena.
The decision to renovate the planetarium stemmed from an announcement in late 2009 that the International Planetarium Society plans to hold its 21st biennial conference in Baton Rouge, Elvert said.
About 400 international delegates are expected to attend the 2012 conference from July 22 to July 26. The anticipated economic impact to Baton Rouge is nearly half a million dollars, Elvert said.
The planetarium conference has been held all over the world, including in Japan, Australia, and big cities in the U.S. such as Chicago and Washington D.C.
Elvert said Baton Rouge was selected because of the planetarium’s size, technology, staff and downtown location with proximity to hotels, restaurants and night life.
The renovation is being funded by private donations raised over the past year.
The original fundraising goal exceeded $2 million.
“The reality is in this economic climate, we’re lucky to raise what he have,” Elvert said.
He said fundraising would continue through October, and if additional funds are made available, the renovation plans could be expanded.
The Irene W. and C. B. Pennington Foundation made the lead gift in support of the renovations, with other sizable donations from ExxonMobil and the Albemarle Foundation.
The planetarium, which is 60 feet in diameter, was opened in 2003 and attracts about 100,000 viewers per year, Elvert said.