Now more than ever, Bettendorf students are seeing stars … among other images at the Donald A. Schaefer Planetarium at Bettendorf High School.

And the public, too, gets to gaze at a series of free programs at the planetarium.

The 64-seat facility has been upgraded with a Spitz digital full-dome projection system that replaces a 42-year-old “star ball” system. The new system can project immersive 360-degree images and video, using two projectors especially designed for the planetarium dome.

The projectors also project motion videos, still photos and text anywhere on the dome. The new system, which has been in place for about a year, enables the planetarium to project a wider range of topics for classes and public shows, said Chris Like, planetarium director.

Along with the new equipment came several shows. Additionally, “We do create our own shows,” said Like, who approached all the departments about what kinds of show they could use with their students. The first to take him up on the offer was the English department, he said, for whom a show about Walt Whitman’s poetry was created, with an English teacher and the former planetarium director narrating, along with a student who also provided narration and another who wrote and played the music.

Another English-focused show centers on the language of Shakespeare that refers to the heavens.

For years, the planetarium has provided shows to community groups such as Boy Scouts and Big Brothers Big Sisters. “And every year, we’ve done the Christmas show,” Like said.

He referred to the popular annual offering that features a visual display of the sky above Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago. Accompanied by music from Mannheim Steamroller, the program presents what astronomers believe occurred in the skies at that time. Like says that community outreach is very important for the planetarium, which was built with the school in 1973. It’s “kind of a jewel of our district as well as a jewel for our community.”

Every year, 4,000 to 6,000 students use the planetarium.

Recently sixth-graders, who just finished a unit on anatomy and are about to start chemistry, took in “Seeing,” a presentation about how light is created in stars and how the human eye sees it.

The students appreciated the latest renovations that include projectors, computers, lights and surround sound.

“It’s pretty cool,” said Abigail Torgerud, a six-grader at Bettendorf Middle School. She said she likes how the presentations feel, “like the room is open.”

“The video was the whole roof of it!” said Delilah Maxfield, another Bettendorf Middle School sixth-grader.

Eventually, Like said, students in seventh- and eighth-grades will be added to the classes who regularly see presentations in the planetarium. It's also used for high-school classes — for example, students who are studying earth and space science.

Link said that Bettendorf Community Schools provides continual funding for the facility, and funded the most recent upgrade. Grants awarded in the past have come from organizations including Bettendorf Community Schools Foundation and Scott County Regional Authority. 

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Film critic/reporter since 1985 at Quad-City Times. Broadcast Film Critics Association member. College instructor for criminal justice, English and math. Serves on Safer Foundation and The Salvation Army advisory boards. Member of St. Mark Lutheran Church