New exhibits planned for Whitworth Ferguson Planetarium

Maris Lambie, Staff Writer

A small crowd of all ages gathered in SUNY Buffalo State’s Buckham Hall on Oct. 23 for a sold out show at Whitworth Ferguson Planetarium (WFP). The show included a new exhibit, Hubble Space Telescope: New Views of the Universe, featuring photos of planets, stars and galaxies taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, as well as videos about how the technology works.

The event also included a new show inside the dome. The first half featured images of the current night sky as the host, Steve Dubois, pointed out constellations and planets that could be seen that night in Buffalo.

“It’s an excellent year for observing planets,” Dubois said.

The second half of the show featured a new video, Inside NASA: From Dream to Discovery, giving viewers a chance to get an inside look at NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto, and engineering in the field.

“People who have seen it said it was very inspiring,” Dubois told the audience before the film started.

The audience were intrigued by the show and asked a lot of questions.

The current temporary planetarium opened in March 2015, as reconstruction on the Science Building caused a need for relocation.

“This is a temporary solution to tide us over,” Dubois said.

“I think the most important new feature is the digital technology,” said Kevin Williams, director of the planetarium. “This creates immersive experiences about astronomy, but also related to earth science, biology, the arts, etc.

“Our in-house programs are collaborations between myself and three of our part-time planetarium staff. They are all Buffalo State alumni who have been active with the planetarium for over 20 years.  The fulldome programs are created by several production companies. Some of them cost over a million dollars to make and involve supercomputer modeling.”

The new planetarium will be open in 2018, but the temporary planetarium has several different shows lined up for this fall and winter.

“We have several new shows in the works,” Dubois said. “We’re going to be doing our laser shows, as well as shows covering various new topics from space exploration, our planet, other planets.”

Another current show they have for fall is Skies of the Harvest, which gives viewers a look at autumn skies over Buffalo and the myths behind some constellations.

“We’re going to have [a show] Dynamic Earth, narrated by Liam Neeson,” Planetarium Office Manager Steve Chipley said. “It’s going to be more of an earth, geology based show, showing how the earth’s landscape has changed throughout the millennium. It’s very impressive and I’m very excited for it.”

“We’re also going to have another show narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch, Solar Superstorms, and we’ll have a Sesame Street themed show for the kids, we sometimes have school groups come in,” Chipley said.

The WFP also offers educational opportunities for students to learn about the universe. All shows are free for Buffalo State students.

“It’s absolutely one of the best facilities around,” Dubois said. “We have two projectors for a full dome video, an opto-mechanical dedicated star projector that creates a stunning star field. The full dome can teach any topic in an immersive way, it’s digital only so it’s not super realistic but you can ‘fly’ through 3D space and it’s a great teaching tool.”


“The old facility could give a more realistic view of the sky and could take into account various sizes of stars,” Chipley said. “But there are so many positives with the new dome. You can literally be on Earth using the program Starry Night to ‘fly’ to other planets or back and forth in time to see how stars changed, simulations of planets from HST, more data and more info. These ‘fly-bys’ give a better personal look of things.”

Both Dubois and Chipley think it is important for people to explore their universe.

“I love the idea of astronomy and educating both students and the public so everyone can experience it.” Chipley said.

“Astronomy is constantly changing and evolving as technology gets better,” Dubois said. “We can learn things in an unexpected way and keeping in touch allows us to evolve as a human race.”


email: [email protected]