How is it possible for an individual to build a planetarium? In most cases it is impossible. One must first truly love the beauty of the night sky and be willing to share that love with others. The modern day planetarium is a high tech wonder portraying the night sky in all it’s glory. Almost every large city has a planetarium museum. These museums are wonderful places for all ages to learn about our awesome universe. Ironically, the only clear view of the night sky most of us have nowadays is from the inside of a planetarium. This is a place where the night sky is replicated in all it’s glory and where city lights or cloud cover cannot obscure it. In fact it is cloud cover that led me on a 10 year journey to build the world’s largest mechanical globe planetarium.
The year was 1996, and it turned out to be a beautiful clear October day. Hopes were high as a group of Boy Scouts were eager to spend the evening under a star- studded sky at Mud Creek Observatory. Just after sunset excitement soon turned to disappointment as cloud cover rolled in obscuring the universe once again. This was the night my dream was born. I would take matters into my own hands and build a planetarium. Such a vision too many would seem foolish at best due to the complexity as well as cost limitations. The average citizen with a high school diploma, on a medium income could only dream of building his own planetarium. Large city educational facilities only pursue such endeavors. I had a goal and set my course for the stars. Our small planet would have to make ten circuits around our own star (the sun) before I would reach my goal.
Those ten years had many up’s and down’s. Building a two ton globe and tipping it on a 45 degree angle is no easy task. This is especially difficult when it’s in your own backyard. Northern Wisconsin is on the 45 degree latitude line, so a mechanical planetarium must be built to that latitude angle. As days turned into months, then into years the planetarium was still just a huge wooden rolling globe. How could something like this display all the stars visible from the northern hemisphere? Try convincing your friends of this and you may be labeled as just nuts. I had to stay focused on my goal; just like a mountain climber who can see the top of the mountain, but is struggling to reach it. Again, my goal was the stars and as long as I stayed the course, they were within reach. I was grateful to have good neighbors and friends, as their knowledge and help were a tremendous boost on a project of this magnitude.
The next big challenge was to paint every star that is visible to the unaided eye in the northern hemisphere inside a 22 foot diameter globe. This was accomplished over a period of month’s as every star had to be accurately plotted in it’s correct position and brightness. There were no shortcuts and attention to detail was paramount. The result is a spectacular replication of the entire night sky visible from the northern hemisphere.
Throughout history only three known globe style planetariums were constructed dating back to the fifteenth century. Thanks to my late father, who took the time to show me the stars, the world now has the fourth and largest mechanical globe planetarium. “It is from here our small planet that we look into the great celestial sphere to contemplate it’s mysteries and speak to it’s creator.” Visitors of all ages can discover the universe and their own place within it, from the Kovac Planetarium. Where the universe revolves around you!