By Kelly Youngblood
After a 17-month shutdown, the stars are finally shining bright again at William M. Staerkel Planetarium.
Staerkel Planetarium, located at Parkland College in Champaign, re-opened to the public on Aug. 6.
As of now, ticket sales are limited to 50 per show and masks are required inside the facility.
Erik Johnson, director of the planetarium and an astronomy professor, said it was a great feeling to finally be back inside the dome with a live audience.
“It was rather exciting to have an audience in person!” Johnson said.
The last public shows were held on March 14, 2020. Since that time, they’ve offered virtual shows through Zoom.
But the virtual experience was just not the same as an in-person showing, according to Johnson.
“We have enjoyed interacting with people through Zoom and even reaching an audience that normally can’t attend a show, but face-to-face meetings and the immersive environment of a planetarium dome can’t be matched by a computer screen,” Johnson said.
The younger audience members (and their parents) will be happy to know seat boosters are now available for use.
Birthday parties are also back; however, since masks are required indoors, if party-goers want to bring cake, they can set up a table outside of the building. They will still offer the birthday show in the dome, as well as a complimentary astronaut ice cream to the birthday boy or girl.
A fall schedule of shows is on the planetarium website.
The planetarium now boasts a Digistar 6 digital projection system and the first Carl Zeiss M1015 opto-mechanical star projector installed in the western hemisphere. Staerkel Planetarium is the second largest planetarium in Illinois.