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Illinois State University Planetarium celebrates 50 years

Archive Photo: The Planetarium has been offering students a view into the galaxy for 50 years.

Archive Photo: The Planetarium has been offering students a view into the galaxy for 50 years.

Kelsey Farrell

Staff Writer

There’s much more to Felmley Hall than required science courses. Although many students may never step foot inside this particular building, its varied history and bright future is hard to miss as it celebrates an important anniversary this week.

Known to most students as “the circular building on School Street,” the ISU Planetarium marked its monumental 50th anniversary Monday. Since opening in 1964, the Planetarium has educated students all over Illinois State’s campus.

“I feel that for 50 years the Planetarium has brought the beauty of the night sky and excitement of astronomy to the ISU community and central Illinois,” Thomas Willmitch, Planetarium Director, said.

Built during the Felmley Hall Annex construction project, the planetarium relied on assistance from Illinois Wesleyan University astronomer, Dr. Ray Wilson, to make the facilities operational.

After the Physics Department was established in 1966, the Planetarium fell under its care and hosted three directors before Thomas Willmitch took the position in 2001, a position he still holds today.

Since opening, the Planetarium has upgraded its presentation capability to include video. In the past year, the Spitz A3-P star-projector was refurbished and now includes new LED planet projectors that allow presentations to be bigger and brighter.

Along with educating the Illinois State community, the Planetarium works closely with the ISU Astronomy Club and the Twin City Amateur Astronomers.

Every year, the Planetarium hosts an average of 175 shows to the public, and also offers programs for various groups and schools around central Illinois.

The Planetarium also presents special seasonal programs, such as Ghostly Tales Under the Stars at Halloween and ’Tis the Season during the winter months.

The Planetarium’s humble beginnings have led to 50 years of sharing the skies with students and visitors alike. Willmitch agreed, saying, “Our programs and special events have fascinated and amazed over two generations, presenting science as it should be seen — as an exciting and vibrant journey of discovery.”

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