Planetarium Director Dennis Anderson demonstrates the HD digital projector. Photo by Anna Mulé

Ever since the Spiro Communications Center was opened in 1968, thousands of Staten Island schoolchildren have learned the basics about astronomy in the Wagner Planetarium. But recent planetarium upgrades are making those lessons bolder than ever.

The old show was still impressive to the College students and staff who attended the final showing of the good old-fashioned AP3 star projector, on June 7, 2012. But the system was severely limited by its age and irreparable damage sustained over the years. “Only about 10 percent of what it should do is actually operational at this point,” said Planetarium Director Dennis Anderson at the time.

This fall, after a $250,000 renovation, the planetarium reopened with new seating, sound system, and a SCIdome HD digital projector.

Now, when the show opens with the sky over Central Park, you see a full-color display, complete with the New York City skyline. Light fades as the sun moves across the sky and sets on the western horizon, bringing out the constellations in their full glory, free of real-life light pollution.

The new system allows Anderson to superimpose drawings of the figures for which the constellations are named. “This is going to be a big help, especially with the kids,” he comments. He can zoom in on planets, and take his viewers on a trip around the globe to show the skies over Tehran or elsewhere, with animations that make you feel like you're traveling through space.

The system includes a few movies that take viewers on trips around the solar system and beyond, with beautiful graphics showing the surfaces of the planets.

“It's so visual,” Anderson raves. “You have these things where you can see a planet coming at you!”

Funding for the planetarium upgrade came through legwork by David J. Martin, Wagner vice president for administration and the College's government liaison. He developed a proposal that was funded by State Senator Martin J. Golden of Brooklyn. Martin continues to seek funding to replace the dome, a $100,000 project.

The Wagner planetarium — one of only two open to the public in New York City — continues to offer shows for school groups and others, Monday through Friday at 10 a.m. and 11:30 a.m., by appointment. The planetarium seats 55, and shows cost $3 per child and $4 per adult. Schedule a group show by contacting Dennis Anderson at 718-390-3432.