Although gloomy fall nights are one of the best times of year for stargazing, the starry sky can often be obscured by the clouds that appear due to bad weather. Now, the newly-revamped planetarium at Tartu's AHHAA Science Center enables visitors to get an even sharper glimpse of the stars than ever before.
The AHHAA Science Center's planetarium, which is unique in the world due to its spherical design, has been in Tartu since 2011. Now, the planetarium's projection equipment, cinema seating and wall have all been upgraded at a total cost of nearly €300,000.
However, the most notable change is the addition of brand new software.
"It allows us to make good use of a wide range of astronomy databases that are not only curated by the software vendor themselves. We can add new satellites here ourselves, for example, and we can also do a lot of the day-to-day stuff," explained Üllar Kivila, head of planetarium at the AHHAA Center.
On Wednesday, a view of all the satellites orbiting the Earth had the audience in awe. Thanks to the new projectors, the image is also much brighter and contains nearly four times as many pixels as before. The view remains clear and detailed even as you fly around the cosmos at a much faster speed than would be possible in real life.
"My head did start spinning. /.../ To find out what the biggest crater on the Moon is. I can't remember its name, but it was there on the dark side of the Moon," said Hermann, a young space enthusiast from Tartu.
His interest in exploring the great beyond has grown mainly from a love of space-related movies.
"We get asked surprisingly difficult questions, where you are left wondering, 'what can I answer to that?'" said Üllar Kivila.
"The question we got from this performance was 'what is the biggest crater on the moon?' But, how am I supposed to show that because it's not visible to the naked eye? So, let's show them a topographical map," he explained.
To keep the virtual space flights at the planetarium running smoothly, the AHHAA Center has a specially dedicated server. However, such a complex and expensive system is not required for everyone to make a virtual trip into space.
"I'd recommend, Stellarium or SpaceEngine for example, two pieces of software that do similar things to what we do in our planetarium, but can basically run on anyone's computer," Kivila said.
Editor: Michael Cole