Houston, we now have liftoff. Orange Coast College’s highly anticipated Planetarium is ready to launch.
The $25 million project, which began in the summer of 2016, is slated to open March 22.
In the age of premier technology, OCC’s 12,000-square-foot Planetarium jumps for light speed. The newly constructed facility, which resembles a swirling galaxy from the outside, includes Orange County’s only Foucault pendulum, a 45-foot installation that demonstrates the rotation of the earth.
The Planetarium also boasts a telescope viewing area and a 6-foot sphere that visualizes the Earth’s surface and geologic features using animated projected graphics. Better known as “science on a sphere,” the 6-foot hanging sphere can display any image by the touch of an iPad.
The program, run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, allows students to see real time events and past data.
“We have electric chromatic windows all around the building that allow for the science on the sphere to be able to be viewed at any time of the day,” OCC Planetarium director Scott Mitchell said. “At any given time we can adjust how dim or light we want it to be in the lobby to match what event is happening that day.”
Mitchell will be hosting, directing and overseeing all activities conducted at the Planetarium. He is also the co-chair of the Science Night committee that coordinates science displays on campus for local elementary school students.
Approved by the Division of State Architect, the Planetarium features the only all-concrete dome in a California public school.
With the help of 13 computers and over $250,000 worth of 4K projectors, the dome allows viewers to watch projected visuals float overhead. A theatre demonstration by Mitchell allows the audience to travel to Mars, land on the moon, and fly through the rings of Saturn.
Constructed by Spitz Incorporated, the dome screen uses nano-seam technology allowing audiences to easily track the show.
Not limited to just theatric shows, instructors across campus disciplines will be able to bring classes in for lectures and visual displays.
The Planetarium was funded by public taxpayer dollars and community donations. The bond measure known as Measure M was passed by voters in 2012 and granted about $700 million to the Coast Community College District for extensive projects across campus.
“The building was funded with taxpayer money so we want to be able to give back to the community,” Mitchell said. “Inspiring an interest in science within young children fosters a love for science that ultimately makes the world a better place.”
OCC’s old planetarium, which was torn down, was constructed in 1956 and designed by famed architect Richard Neutra. In 2008, OCC astronomy instructor Nick Contopoulos suggested a new planetarium be built on campus to have school-age groups use the space for learning.
The new structure was designed to match Neutra’s style, Mitchell said.
“The whole kind of mid-century modern theme designed by Neutra is contained within the new Planetarium. The curved architecture of the planetarium was actually designed to match that of the library,” Doug Bennett, executive director of the Orange Coast College Foundation said. “We have three target audiences in mind. We’ll be having classes for our students studying astronomy, local elementary students and the members of the community.”
Students from the K-12 school systems will have the opportunity to come on field trips and watch a visual display of what they have been learning inside the classroom.
The Planetarium will also be available to the Orange County community through public nights, where anyone will be available to purchase a ticket to see a performance.
“We are currently working with the Orange County Department of Education. Our flagship program will be targeted toward fifth grade, working to bring in two full planetariums of fifth graders daily,” Mitchell said. “All the programs we have will break it down by standard giving teachers an opportunity to match their class curriculum standards.”