Lighting Up The Planetarium – Again

Beginning December 12, The Saint Louis Science Center will light up the James S. McDonnell Planetarium with a state-of-the-art LED system that will illuminate the building’s iconic shell in stunning colors on a nightly basis for the first time in nearly four years.

“We think this is a wonderful way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Planetarium and provide a reminder of this community’s iconic science learning resource,” said Bert Vescolani, president and CEO, Saint Louis Science Center. “We are restoring the original lighting concepts but with updated technology that is more energy efficient and reduces maintenance.” In addition to saving money and energy, the new system provides an extraordinary array of colors – as many as 16 million color variations, images and movement.

The original lighting system, installed in late summer of 2002, consisted of 12 pole-mounted lighting fixtures set around the Planetarium that worked off colored lenses with a mechanical element to change colors. The system allowed for a single color, multiple bands of color and even custom colors for special events such as baseball or hockey playoffs. At 800 watts each, the lamps consumed a lot of energy and had an average life of only 3,000 hours. Lamps were replaced annually at a cost of about $3,000. By 2007, the lighting system was outdated and failing to produce color. “It simply wore out,” said John Wharton, managing director of facilities. “We limped along with just white lights on the Planetarium’s shell for a few years.”

The new system consists of 24 color-wash LED lights mounted on the repurposed original 12 poles. There are six gobo projectors that can produce moving or static images, patterns and pictures. The LED system is more energy efficient. “From 800 watts a pole down to 250 watts, that’s a 70 percent reduction in energy,” said Wharton. The new lights are more affordable and are expected to last 10 to 12 years with little or no maintenance. The Science Center staff did most of the design and installation work. The entire project, including fixtures, cost $100,000.

This is one of several innovative accomplishments recently undertaken by the Science Center to advance sustainability. This week, the Science Center is being recognized as a Circle of Excellence award winner by the St. Louis Regional Chamber at the 2013 Green Business Challenge ceremony.

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