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Planetarium at UT Arlington premiers NASA-funded show

Photo by Tim LautensackLLC and Northern Kentucky University, which provided animations of Chaco Canyon, New Mexico.
Photo by Tim LautensackLLC and Northern Kentucky University, which provided animations of Chaco Canyon, New Mexico.

The Planetarium at The University of Texas at Arlington is using NASA funding to explore the mysteries of Earth's closest and most important star in "Magnificent Sun," an original feature film set to premier Thursday, Dec. 9.

The 45-minute planetarium show is the third in a series developed by Manfred Cuntz, a UT Arlington associate professor of physics, and the planetarium staff over the past three years. Funding for "Magnificent Sun" came from a $30,000 public outreach supplemental grant from NASA's Solar and Heliospheric Physics program.

Cuntz's research, conducted with solar physicist David Hathaway of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., focuses on the structure of the solar surface, particularly convective patterns.

"As a researcher, I feel it's not just appropriate to develop and use theoretical work to better understand our sun, but also to offer something to the general public to share information and excitement about solar physics," Cuntz said. "The planetarium is a nice venue for doing that because it attracts the general public and potential students to UT Arlington."

The show features solar surface research and lessons on the interaction between the Sun and the Earth. It also provides tidbits on the history of solar physics - all coordinated with stunning animated illustrations.

Cuntz authored the script with Peter Williams, a former doctoral student of Cuntz's who now works at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, and Marc Rouleau, the previous director of the UT Arlington planetarium.

Levent Gurdemir, the planetarium's current director, said developing original planetarium shows allows UT Arlington to highlight the valuable research under way at the University.

"The sun is the star we know best, but it still has many mysteries," Gurdemir said. "If we understand the sun, we can better understand other stars."

Planetarium staff, led by program coordinator Amy Barraclough, spent about a year working countless hours on the new show. Other contributors to the "Magnificent Sun" included animation specialist Ron Proctor, Dome3D. Dome3D developed the popular SpacePark360 planetarium show that features numerous roller coaster simulations.

With a 60-foot diameter dome and state of the art Digistar 4 DLP Projection system, the planetarium at UT Arlington is one of the largest and most sophisticated in the state of Texas.

The first show developed at UT Arlington through NASA funding, "Cosmic CSI: Looking for Life in the Universe," was finished in 2007 and the second, which focused on NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), opened in 2009. All three shows will be available for distribution to other planetariums across the U.S. in 2011.

Thursday's premier begins at 6 p.m. It is free and open to the public, but space is limited. This is the only chance to see "Magnificent Sun" this year. It will appear on the planetarium's regular schedule in Spring 2011.

The UTA Planetarium also is showing three new entertainment shows in December, Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon," "The Wall" and "Wish You Were Here," and two holiday shows, Season of Light and Holiday Music Magic. For more information on those shows, visit