The Planetarium at Hartnell College has been enchanting audiences with the wonders of astronomy and space science for over 50 years. Originally built in 1962 as a part of the new $1.9 million Merrill Hall, the planetarium reflected a shift in public attention skyward and towards the burgeoning Space Race. The planetarium originally mainly served the needs of the college acting primarily as a lab space for astronomy classes. Its first director, Rear Admiral (retired) C.E. Dickinson, managed the planetarium in addition to his primary job as a teacher. In 1976, following the retirement of “The Admiral”, the college sought to expand the role of the planetarium in the community and subsequently hired a new full time planetarium director, David Aguilar.
Under David’s tenure the planetarium flourished. While the original seating arrangement held 160 people, the planetarium often hosted 170 people or more. David skillfully crafted custom special effects using a series of home-built projectors; all managed from two special effects control panels he built himself. David eventually left in 1980 to take up the directorship of the Fiske Planetarium in Boulder, CO. Following David’s departure the role of Planetarium Director passed to Andy Newton.
Andy Newton’s tenure saw the exploration of the last of the gas giants by Voyager probes, the passing of Halley’s Comet, and the launch of the Hubble space telescope. Each event celebrated by and brought to the public of Salinas by the planetarium in a series of special events hosted here at Hartnell. The planetarium continued to serve the Salinas area, hosting thousands of people at hundreds of shows. Andy Newton eventually shifted his attentions towards management and brought on Andy Krechye to run the planetarium as the Planetarium Coordinator.
Andy Kreyche continued the tradition of educational outreach to schools and to the public. He engaged students using props such as beach balls to explain the scale of the planets and gave innumerable shows to the public as a skilled science communicator. Andy Krechye left Hartnell in 2015 to start his own traveling planetarium company using an inflatable dome and portable projector. Andrew Lindsey took over in February of 2016. The current planetarium coordinator, Wayne Foster, has been at Hartnell since January of 2018.
The planetarium itself has seen renovations in seating, structure, and its projector system. The original projector, a Spitz A-3P, was capable of projecting the stars, planets, moon and sun. The system could also imitate the normal motions of the Earth’s rotation, revolution, and precession as well as display the stars from any latitude.
In 2004, the planetarium received a $150,000 upgrade to a Konica-Minolta Mediaglobe-I, one of the world’s first digital planetariums. The upgrade allowed the planetarium to display a substantially larger number of visuals as well as the presentation of full length films tailored to the dome shape of the planetarium.
In 2017, the planetarium itself received an upgrade. As a part of Measure H, a $131 mil. infrastructure improvement bond for the college, a new $29 mil. science building was built. This included a new planetarium and equipment. The new planetarium is larger (40 foot diameter vs previous 30 foot dia.), more spacious (80 seats vs 45 seats), and hosts a new MediaGlobe-III projector with accompanying lighting and audio systems. Projector resolution has been increased by 50%. Contrast and visibility are also markedly improved. The planetarium also gained the ability to produce short videos in-house with a new Digistar workstation.
With the new planetarium Hartnell College hopes to continue its 50 year tradition of outreach and public education to the Salinas Valley community.