Friday, April 8, 2011

Man's passion inspires personal planetarium, 12.27.10

A man in Wisconsin who had the dream but not the grades decided to skip the institution and bring the stars to his fingertips… by making them himself.  Frank Kovac, a 45 year-old paper mill worker, once aspired to be an astrophysicist but could not make it through college math at university. Despite this, Kovac was determined to build—completely by hand—his own planetarium.

A mammoth labor of love that took him no less than 15 years to construct, Kovac built a spherical planetarium with a 22 foot diameter, and weighs in at 2 tons. It has been deemed “the world’s largest, rolling, mechanical, globe planetarium.” To manipulate his rolling monster, Kovac rigged it to an “electric, variable-speed motor controller.”

There are multiple types of planetarium systems. Globe planetaria like Kovac’s are generally viewed from an angle and almost have 360 degree coverage of the night sky all at once. Dome planetaria, like our own Wetherbee Planetarium, cover half of a sphere and can either be directly overhead, or on an angle, generally leaning forward. Planetaria can either make use of multiple kinds of projection systems, or they can have a fixed image of the night sky put on their surface.

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Not possessing the funds to purchase his own projection system for the planetarium, Kovac underwent the arduous task of hand painting 5,000 stars on the inside of his planetarium. These were no simple blobs of paint, either. Kovac carefully mapped out the interior of his globe planetarium and painted each star in its correct position, and made sure to reflect their proper brightness with luminous paint.

Kovac recently spoke to CBS about his planetarium, and said it is now open to the public in Monico, Wisconsin ($12 admission). He said he still works at the paper mill, but spends most of his time with his planetarium.

“To be a planetarium director, you need college,” he said, “but if you build your own, you can run it!”


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