Photo Gallery: South Carolina State Museum observatory, planetarium ready for Saturday opening

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A project in the works for more than 17 years at the South Carolina State Museum will open to the public Saturday, giving visitors a look at the stars and making science classes more interactive for students all over the state.

Under the dome: the view from inside the new observatory (photo by Allen Wallace).

Under the dome: The view from inside the new observatory (photo by Allen Wallace)

The 75,000-square-foot renovation and expansion, known as “Windows to New Worlds”, includes an observatory unlike any other in the nation, one of the largest planetariums in the Southeast, and South Carolina’s first permanent 4-D theater.

The museum allowed elected officials, members of the media and kids from Epworth Children’s Home and Boys and Girls Clubs of the Midlands to visit the museum for a preview Wednesday.

State Education Superintendent Mick Zais said the observatory, with a telescope that can be operated remotely by teachers from their classrooms all over South Carolina, “opens up learning opportunities for students across the state.”

Amy Baldwin, a science teacher from Dorchester who was among the first teachers to be trained to use the telescope, agreed.

“They’ll get to see the science from their textbooks in a real world situation,” she said. “Their eyes are going to light up and the education is just going to explode!”

The kids who had an early look at the new facilities Wednesday appeared to prove Baldwin’s statement true. They watched as observatory staff used a video camera attached to the telescope to provide a look at the surface of the sun, with the harmful brightness filtered out of the image. They oohed and ahhed when told that a tiny black spot in the picture was actually a sunspot bigger than the earth and again when staff explained that because of the time it takes sunlight to reach earth, looking at the picture was like looking back in time.

The kids also had the opportunity to visit to the 4-D theater. The movie “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs — The 4-D Experience” offered a huge high-definition screen and a 3-D picture with surround sound and also physical features like water sprayers, ankle ticklers, air blasters, bubble and smoke effects and vibrating seats designed to make the audience feel like part of the movie.

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said that while “Windows to New Worlds” is expected to increase annual museum attendance by 75,000 visitors and contribute millions of dollars to the local economy, its importance goes beyond that.

“Great cities are growing by choice, not by chance,” he said. He added that the project is a great investment because “it’s a vision whose impact can’t be counted just in terms of visitors or economics.”

The museum’s grand opening celebration begins at 9 a.m. Saturday. The first 100 visitors will receive free admission and other free tickets and discounts to museum events for the next year.

The day will include lots of other giveaways, family-friendly activities and guest appearances including a special video message from South Carolina native Stephen Colbert. Students from the Challenger Learning Center will launch model rockets.

A film called “Seven Wonders” will be shown on the planetarium’s 55-foot digital dome projection screen, and “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs — The 4-D Experience” will be shown in the 4-D theater.

More on the grand opening and the expansion project is available at the museum’s website.

Categories: Local News