Stars align for planetarium renovations

Courtesy+Photo

Jason Wang

Courtesy Photo

Randy Flores, Reporter

The Donald E. Bianchi Planetarium received a fresh coat of paint this summer as CSUN’s Department of Physics and Astronomy looks to continue renovating the inside of the building.

CSUN’s Senior Director of Physical Plant Management Jason Wang and his team spearheaded the operation, which included repainting the outside of the planetarium, and updating the building’s metal structures like walkways and railings.

According to Wang, the restoration took roughly 417 hours of labor to complete and had a total materials cost of around $1,000 with funds coming from CSUN’s maintenance budget.

The work to the planetarium is now done, but Wang hopes updates can continue in the future on the inside of the planetarium.

“We recently submitted an order to replace the air handling unit in the planetarium,” Wang said. “The unit struggles, especially on hotter days of the summer. So, we’re looking forward to that.”

The planetarium is now open for classes, but the astronomy shows — which first came to a halt due to COVID-19 — remain suspended until further notice.

Fourth-year student Marcello Vazquez had a chance to experience the shows before they were shut down and supports the maintenance of school buildings.

“I like the idea that the school cares enough to keep the campus up to date and doesn’t let it degrade,” Vazquez said. “I hope that they do this for all on-campus amenities to make sure that they are taken care of.”

Debi Choudhary, the chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, shared a similar sentiment. He is in charge of operations at the planetarium, and said a combination of COVID-19, lack of funding for a new projector and the retirement of the expert running the observatory halted operations for the star shows.

“Our expert who was running the observatory, he retired during COVID,” Choudhary said. “This projector also has some problems … so we actually are desperately looking for somebody to help us with this.”

Choudhary is currently looking to secure funding for the new projector, which he says will be able to tell modern astronomy stories similar to the function of the James Webb Space Telescope. A few examples include the life of a star, season changes, and current events like eclipses or NASA space missions.

His hope is that these updates to the planetarium will encourage not only the CSUN community to visit, but also anyone in the area looking to learn more about space.

“After I took the chair position, my focus was to make this planetarium run for the community and for the nearby schools, like when the planetarium was running before COVID,” Choudhary said. “Local high school students used to come with their parents and enjoy the show … and when students see these grand things they get really motivated.”