Planetarium Opens in New Jersey, Ushering in a New Kind of Star Wars

Here in Jersey City, Mr. Hoffman may not have Hollywood expectations either, but the Chalsty has Hollywoodish roots. It was originally the largest Imax dome theater in the country, built for the film format that was long the standard for extra-large movie screens. Over the years, Imax expanded from its initial museum market, becoming a multiplex staple around the world.

“We gutted the interior” of the domed structure, Mr. Hoffman said, “and went from one film projector to 10 digital projectors. Imax film is still great, but there are fewer and fewer releases being made with it.”

Among planetariums, said David H. DeVorkin, the senior curator for the history of astronomy at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, “bigness has always been a point of honor,” but it is not everything. “The deal is, How good is your sky? If the dome has ribs in it or if it has holes in it or it’s kind of dirty, you’ll see that, too. When the sky is totally dark, you don’t, but there’s a concern that anything bright will show the veins of the dome.”

The Chalsty has a brand-new screen comprising 588 panels and a surface area of 12,345 square feet, about the same square footage as five average homes. It is more reflective than earlier screens, Mr. Hoffman said, which makes it less likely that audiences will see through it.

Dr. DeVorkin said programming may matter more than the setup. Someone going to a planetarium probably would not care about what was behind the scenes any more than someone going to a football came would care about state-of-the-art locker rooms or even the size of the stadium. “Do you go there for the size of the stadium, or for the teams that are playing? Dr. DeVorkin said. “I would go for the teams.”

Mr. Hoffman said the programs shown at the Chalsty would be live. “We have a presenter” — Mike Shanahan, who was the manager of the University of Hawaii’s Bishop Museum Planetarium and Observatory in Honolulu before joining the science center’s staff recently. He can improvise if someone in the audience asks a question, calling up images stored on the planetarium’s server almost instantly.

The Hayden Planetarium runs live presentations for its evening programs, but Dr. Tyson said the daytime shows, scheduled to begin every 30 minutes, are “preprogrammed.”

“What we have found is the public doesn’t always know what to ask for. They come in wide-eyed and ready to…

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