Construction on Palomar’s new planetarium two years in the making is finally winding down with the announcement of its grand opening on March 9, followed by its opening to the general public on March 16.
The former planetarium was built in 1965 and served Palomar for 43 years, before being demolished to make way for the new MD building. For a long time it was the only planetarium in North County, serving the county’s K-12 school children in addition to the public.
Astronomy professors Mark Lane and Jim Pesavento began meeting with architects and consultants in 2007.
“We outlined what we envisioned the new planetarium should be – a jewel for the campus that would attract visitors from the community and a place where we could educate the people about the wonders of our Universe using exciting, immersive, digital displays,” Lane states in his construction blog.
The administration broke ground on May 26, 2010. The planetarium, including its state-of-the-art equipment, cost about $8 million. All funds were provided by the money of Prop M.
“The equipment ranges from audio (speakers, amplifiers, etc.) to presentation control equipment,” Lane wrote.
In the weeks approaching the opening, workers will be focusing on a “punch list”, or a concise compilation of minor issues the building needs fixed, such as any electrical work.
When guests walk in, they will be greeted by displays in the lobby. The theater, however, is the main attraction. Seating up to 142 people, guests can learn about astronomy. The theater provides live as well as recorded footage of the night sky. After each showing, visitors have the option of “stargazing” through telescopes set up by the planetarium staff.
“It draws people to the campus who want to learn more about astronomy, our role is to be a community presence and the planetarium is our connection to the community,” Lane said.
The building and the revenue it generates is considered to be non-profit, meaning the money made will be purely enough to maintain the planetarium and won’t be making anyone richer. The funds generated by the small admission fee will be used for maintenance, equipment, and the purchasing of the films presented in the theater.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays the planetarium will be reserved for classroom field trips. The planetarium will be open to the general public every Friday evening for around $7. Student, military, and senior citizen discounts will be provided.