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Stars align for University of Minnesota Duluth planetarium

The stars at the Marshall W. Alworth Planetarium are shining a little brighter these days. The planetarium on the University of Minnesota Duluth campus reopened last week after a two-month renovation that included, among other projects, cleaning ...

Student workers
University of Minnesota Duluth student workers Steve Hendrickson and Lindsey Meuwissen watch the laser show during the 7 p.m. show Wednesday at the newly refurbished Marshall W. Alworth Planetarium on the UMD campus. The planetarium reopened to the public recently after undergoing $150,000 of renovations and updates. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

The stars at the Marshall W. Alworth Planetarium are shining a little brighter these days.

The planetarium on the University of Minnesota Duluth campus reopened last week after a two-month renovation that included, among other projects, cleaning out the star machine, according to Lindsey Meuwissen, planetarium supervisor and senior at UMD.

"Let's get all of the stars and the sun turned on," she told an audience Wednesday evening after a free laser show for kids called Perseus and Andromeda. "The stars should look a lot crisper."

About $150,000 was spent on renovations including a full-dome theater, digital lighting, surround sound, 70 new chairs and carpeting, according to planetarium director Howard Mooers.

The facility was in dire need of repair with the original system installed in 1965, Mooers said. The lighting was failing with no way to repair it, he said.

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Although UMD slashed the planetarium budget in 1990, it has been run since then on about $18,000 a year from the Alworth Endowment, which pays student workers who present programming.

Mooers went to UMD administrators last year, after realizing the facility was coming to the end of its life, and asked for renovation money.

"They came through in grand style," he said about money that came from pots designated for renovations and maintenance. Mooers also raised money in a "buy a seat" campaign and sold an antique telescope for $20,000 to get the project completed.

Also, a gift shop was built this summer, and some of the proceeds from selling educational toys, planetarium T-shirts and freeze-dried ice cream will help defray costs.

"It's a little frustrating," he said of the lack of operating money from UMD. "One of the missions (at UMD) is to enhance community relations and this science theater is here -- without a budget."

Still, Mooers believes in the facility enough to take it on without pay and even foot the bill on some expenses.

"I think it's valuable, and I like the job," he said.

Those in the audience seemed to appreciate the experience on Wednesday.

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Jean Franckowiak of Esko remembers coming to the planetarium years ago.

"I think it's a lot better than it was," she said. "And we all learned something."

She brought her grandchildren and took a free star map to use with them while camping.

Four-year-old Bailey Wistrom of Duluth couldn't contain her excitement after the show.

"I liked it!" she said. "I liked the stars."

With more than 10,000 annual visitors already, Mooers predicts attendance will increase once word gets out about the considerable facelift.

Laser shows, with a system Mooers rented, are kicking off the next week of programming with programs for kids as well as laser music shows ranging from Laser U2 today to Laser Beatles on Saturday and Laser Spirit, a Sept. 11 remembrance, on Sunday.

General planetarium shows on Wednesdays and Friday evenings are free to the public while shows on other nights cost $3 per adult and $2 per child.

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After the laser shows wrap up, people can expect to see a mix of space-related science and other science programming, Mooers said.

Laser show
A scene from the free laser show for kids called Perseus and Andromeda at the newly refurbished Marshall W. Alworth Planetarium on the UMD campus Wednesday night. Laser shows will continue for another week. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

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