News Column

Pottsville Area lights up planetarium with LEDs

September 4, 2014

By Stephen J. Pytak, Republican & Herald, Pottsville, Pa.

Sept. 04--With a touch of a button, a science teacher at Pottsville Area High School can turn night to dawn, then dawn to day and day to twilight.

"We just had a new LED lighting upgrade, so the lighting is much more realistic," Matthew R. Saporito, the new instructor assigned by the high school's planetarium, which recently got a $16,678 lighting upgrade, said Wednesday. "We have a lot more control over the system. And we can, pretty much, program any kind of simulation we can think of."

With the start of the 2014-15 school year, Saporito has stepped behind the controls of the planetarium, taking the place of high school science teacher Thomas J. Guzick, who retired in June. Saporito said he hopes to work with the school district to develop more programs for students and, possibly, a public demonstration.

Built in 1966, the planetarium is a classroom with a dome-shaped ceiling designed for astronomy classes. The lighting system attached to the perimeter of the dome was outdated. This was the first time such a upgrade was done on the lighting system on the perimeter of the planetarium's dome, Kerry Ansbach, the district's director of facilities and transportation, said recently.

"It was a system which used 400-watt bulbs. We can't get the bulbs anymore, and 75 percent of them are out. The bulbs are no longer manufactured. The last time we had some that were burned out we actually bought used ones. We bought those on Ebay," Ansbach said in July.

"They were incandescent standard bulbs that were becoming increasingly hard to replace. And they kind of were a fire hazard," Saporito said Wednesday.

"LED stands for Light Emitting Diode. An LED is a semi-conducting device that produces light when an electrical current flows through it. An LED is a light source that has no filament, which is the major component that fails in HID (High-Intensity Discharge lamps), fluorescent and incandescent light due to vibration and striking of the filament," according to the website for Graybar, Teterboro, New Jersey, the contractor the school board hired to do the work.

The new lighting at the planetarium is a Philips Color Kinetics LED system, according to Saporito.

Just inside the door to the planetarium is the control station. Previously, two knobs controlled the lights. Both are the diameter of flapjacks.

"You'd have to manually control blue and yellow lights and brightness and intensity. There was no programming. You'd have to do it on the fly. So this is completely obsolete now. We're working on getting cover plates for these," Saporito said.

The new control panel is smaller, flat, resembles a two-port electrical outlet. It has 11 buttons.

"It's a touch panel hooked up to a network wireless device. This system is much more functional than the old one. There's a computer program I'm trying to learn that will allow us to make patterns and different color combinations. I think I can add 100 different programs," Saporito said.

On Wednesday, he was able to demonstrate a few, including the dark blues of twilight, which appeared so realistic it was as if the ceiling wasn't there at all.

"To simulate a sunset, we practiced over and over trying to get it right. There's this reddish-orange hue, then, as the sun sets, the sky goes to this dark blue and the night sky will gradually come into view," he said as he ran the light show on the dome.

In November 1965, the "Pottsville Area School System" made a proposal to add a "planetarium observatory" to Pottsville Area High School using "Federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act funds," according the archives of The Republican-Herald.

The planetarium is one part of the high school's Motivational Science Center, which includes the observatory, a building atop the high school that includes a telescope. Both were established in 1966, according to the newspaper's archives.

They are accessible on the third floor of the high school building at North 16th Street and Elk Avenue, just through a doorway marked "Room No. 319 Planetarium" and down a hallway.


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Source: Republican & Herald (Pottsville, PA)

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