Published: July 14, 2014

MSU planetarium celebrates 50 years of stargazing

Contact(s): Tom Oswald Media Communications office: (517) 432-0920 cell: (517) 281-7129, Shannon Schmoll Abrams Planetarium office: (517) 355-4676

In the 1960s the “Space Race” was heating up. Men and women were traveling to outer space. Amazing pictures of the moon, planets and stars were being taken. And, of course, a man actually walked on the moon.

It was also in that decade – 1964, to be exact – that the Abrams Planetarium on the campus of Michigan State University first opened for business.

Since then, Abrams Planetarium has been a mainstay in the mid-Michigan area. Thousands of school children have visited, taking in shows in the theater and learning about constellations, planets, stars, galaxies, black holes and many other astronomical wonders.

In addition, MSU faculty have used the facility for teaching classes. University social events have been held there as well.

This year the planetarium marks its 50th anniversary with the installation of a new star projector and the welcoming of a new director, Shannon Schmoll.

Schmoll said the mission of Abrams remains the same as it was a half-century ago.

“We strive to increase the appreciation and awareness of the night sky and support science literacy for everyone,” she said. “We do this through full-dome shows that always have a live presentation, engaging interactive multimedia, tailored programming for K-12 students, providing a venue for undergraduate education across disciplines, and collaborating with people across campus and the community.”

Schmoll said appreciation of astronomy also helps remind us of where we came from.

“Without studying the stars, we wouldn’t know that we are actually made out of the material of old stars that died,” she said. “It’s crazy, but helps give us a sense of place within the universe.”

The planetarium’s new projector – the Digistar 5 – will be installed in August, just in time for a series of new shows in the fall.

“This will provide sharper, crisper images,” Schmoll said. “Planetarium goers will be able to fly throughout the universe or, closer to home, any planet in the Solar System. They will be able to fly through, for example, the landscape of Mars.”

The Digistar 5 replaces the Digistar II, which was installed in 1994.

When Abrams first opened its doors, it was considered quite the trendsetter. According to the MSU faculty-staff newspaper at the time, it was a “first of its kind.” With the use of “modern” slide projectors, it provided easy-to-view looks at the night sky from pretty much anywhere on the face of the Earth.

The planetarium is named in honor of Talbert “Ted” and Leota Abrams. Ted Abrams was a leader in the field of aerial photography and in the early 1960s the couple contributed to MSU for the building of a space science education center.

The last of the planetarium’s summer shows is July 20. The shows will resume in September and will be bigger and better than ever with the debut of the new Digistar 5 projector.

For more information on Abrams Planetarium and its public shows, visit


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