SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY

Largest planetarium in Western Hemisphere opens in NJ

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

The experience swept visitors past the sun with its psychedelic solar flares and swooped them past the planets. They sat in steep stadium seating at the Liberty Science Center’s brand-new planetarium watching the show unfold on a wrap-around screen with 8,000 resolution, 88 million pixels to be exact, which completely fills your field of vision.

Matthew and Lyla Carbone were in the audience for the planetarium show with their two young daughters.

“Inside of this dome, I felt like I had a front row seat to the universe, is what it felt like. It made me realize how beautiful our earth is,” said Matthew Carbone.

“Whenever the sky was moving, it felt like this was moving,” said their daughter Lyla.

“It was spectacular! I got a little bit of vertigo, yes! I had to hold onto my seat,” said Karyn Carbone.

The sensation’s so realistic, some joked, it’s “barf-worthy.” But seriously, this is, for now the biggest planetarium in the Western Hemisphere.

“Which means you have to go all the way to Beijing or Japan to find a larger planetarium. And with planetariums, size matters,” said Liberty Science Center President and CEO Paul Hoffman.

To give you a sense of scale, the planetarium is about 89 feet in diameter. It is 60 feet from floor to ceiling and it seats 400 people.

“It most simulates what it’s like to be out in big sky country. If you were in Montana or Wyoming where there are no buildings or light pollution this actually has a horizon if you look at the sky,” said Hoffman.

To be clear, it’s not a telescope, it’s a screen that was originally an IMAX theater that opened in 1993. But a $5 million donation from Liberty Science Center board member Jennifer Chalsty helped transform the facility into a high-tech showplace, sporting five speaker arrays, 10 digital projectors and 281 trillion distinct hues.

“You have a server room that’s essentially a supercomputer where the presenter can call up images on the fly,” said Hoffman.

Images of planets collected by probes sent on missions of discovery displayed at the touch of a button.

“People love astronomy, I think, especially in this country. And it’s a great way to lead folks into science, and STEM in general,” said planetarium director Mike Shanahan.

It also provides some perspective.

“It made me realize how beautiful our earth is. All these other planets were almost lifeless. There were some stuff, but our world has all these ingredients for life to exist and I think that’s just like a really remarkable and amazing thing” said Matthew Carbone.

Tickets to the science center, including the planetarium, cost $23.75 for kids and $28.75 for adults.