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How to Make Your Own Planetarium

"I wish we had a planetarium in our university." said a student.

"That would be so cool," said another student.

"Never mind. We'll make our own!" said the professor.

What if I tell you they are not joking?

In a true DIY spirit, students of HSRW Astronomy Club and their guiding star Professor Alexander Struck built an entire Planetarium from scratch. From cardboard, 400 clips and 350 screws, to be precise. Here's how:

Step 1. It's all about Maths

Planning of the magnificent planetarium started with a basic drawing using just a pencil. Thanks to Beals Science, students were able to get inspired to make their own Cardboard Planetarium.

In future, it is a great opportunity for the engineering students of the Club to take this project to an advanced level by redefining its shape and dimensions using software such as SolidWorks.

Step 2. Brainstorming

A crucial step to avoid mistakes later is to brainstorm before starting the construction work, especially important in technical designing.

And after that, all you need is to go shopping accordingly. In this case the team bought cardboard that was, to put simply, roughly equal to the size covering the area of half a football field. The target was to make a 600 by 300 centimeters dome-shaped planetarium.

Step 3. Keeping it together

Photograph by Konstantin Meixner

Time for some fork (fun+work)! Assembling the parts is the most tiring part of the job. So bring help.

At Rhine Waal, a pleasant Sunday morning was turned into an Astronomy brunch and afterwards a 'Cardboard Cutting' party. A lot of students from various disciplines across the faculties joined the task force to cut and assemble the cardboard in its right position. Hundreds of paper clips and screws were used to keep it together.

Step 4. Almost there

You may not need the giant mini(?) truck if what you are making is a small planetarium. But building the top dome can be tricky, despite of all the tall people in the team.

Here, it required a ladder and a forklift present in the Mechanical lab, where the Planetarium was getting ready for its first show!

Step 5. Deciding the Show

The next steps to follow are to write the script for the show and choosing the right software to create the film.

The Astronomy Club created one show in German and one in English for the narration. The speakers of the show were Sabine Hoerkner, a Bioengineering student and Leo Kindred, a Science Communication Intern. While the script was ready with the help of the Astronomy Club students, it was quite a task to time the audio along with the visuals shown with the projector.

To this, another member of the club, Konstantin Meixner, a mathematician-turned-Science Communication student, came to the rescue. Using his programming skills, he was able to create a systematic show on Stellarium software. The process involved to make sure that the angles of the constellations and other visuals were properly aligned with the wanted position on the Cardboard Planetarium.

"Keep Calm and Do Science" was in fact the silent motto of the club throughout the making of this team project, as written on professor’s T-Shirt. Step 6. Become a major hit

Your planetarium is ready for the world! In Kleve, it was held for the first time ever.

The Planetarium Show was revealed on the Open Day held in the university campus in Kleve on May 25th, 2019. The show was free for all students, staff and the people of Kleve. The show witnessed a great mix of audiences from kids to young adults to the elderly population. Though different ages, all of them had the same inquisitive mind. What's there behind the cardboard? What does the universe hold?

Some people had never seen a planetarium before. The audience included some professors too, who had never been in a planetarium before, and were excited to see how the Planetarium Show takes place in the university campus.“Given the fact that it was all self-made, it almost gave the feels of a real planetarium,” said Bhavya Dutta, a student of Mechatronics Systems Engineering. The Cardboard Planetarium turned out to be truly an outcome of great collective efforts. A major hit event, the show organized by the Astronomy Club became the largest science event at the university that gathered people from many age groups and backgrounds. The astronomical endeavor of all the students and staff members paid off.


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