The Marie Drake Planetarium

Where the stars always shine in Juneau, AK

Newspaper Articles - 2019

Star power: Planetarium shows what fundraising could bring to town

Digital projector offers glimpse of Juneau’s future

October 11  by  By Ben Hohenstatt

Projections look bright for Juneau’s planetarium.

The Marie Drake Planetarium hosted educators from the Museum of Flight in Seattle this week, and they came equipped with a digital system similar to the one Friends for the Marie Drake Planetarium are working to buy.

A digital system would be a massive upgrade over the 1967 Spitz projector the planetarium currently uses, said volunteer Rosemary Walling, who is also a board member for FOMDP.

“It’s so different,” Walling said. “It’s like going to a computer from a slide rule.”

Educators for the Museum of Flight Paul Martinez and Mandy Walker-LaFollette showed the digital system’s capabilities to the Empire. Their fellow educator Natalie Copeland has also been demonstrating the projector at Juneau schools and the planetarium but was not present.

The Museum of Flight educators said they’re used to seeing their portable digital projector work in the confines of a traveling, inflatable dome and were impressed by what it looked like in the planetarium.

“Having a fixed dome here is amazing,” Walker-LaFollette said.

Using the projector, educators could fly to distant planets, travel along the surface of Mars and show overlays of how constellations as interpreted by different cultures.

“Ours is going to be bigger and better,” Walling said.

Currently, the planetarium makes use of its original 1967 projector and system, which has lost its abilities to depict much more than the night’s sky over the years.\

“Over time, things stopped working,” Walling said.

First, the planetarium friends need to raise some money, and Walling said progress is being made.

Phase 1 of the project, purchasing a projector, is already complete. Walling said a projector that would normally cost about $32,000 was purchased for $16,500.

The short-term focus is Phase 2, which has a fundraising goal of $12,000. That phase includes purchasing a fish-eye lens, computer, stand, software and a console.

So far, Walling said about a quarter of that total, $3,000, has been raised.

There is a Phase 3 plan that would provide high-resolution Earth and solar system data sets and software upgrades, Walling said fundraising for that can be done incrementally. Phase 2 is what needs to be completed for the planetarium to present a digital show.

When Phase 2 is complete, Walling said the Spitz projector would not need to be moved immediately since the digital system could be calibrated for being placed in an off-center location.

This week has been sort of a public awareness campaign for both the Marie Drake Planetarium and the coveted projector system.

It’s been dubbed Digital Planetarium Week by the planetarium. Flight Museum educators have given presentations to and estimated 600 people at at the planetarium and more than 1,000 Juneau schools students had seen the portable system in action, Walling said.

The response has been so enthusiastic that Walling said the planetarium added two more shows to the week’s schedule.

She said it isn’t often popular demand dictates additional Saturday night shows at the planetarium.

Know & Go

What: Digital Planetarium Week presentations

When: 6:30 and 7:45 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Marie Drake Planetarium, 1415 Glacier Ave.

Admission: Free, but registration is required. Registration can be done online through

Rosemary Walling, a volunteer and board member of Friends of the Marie Drake Planetarium, views Saturn and its moons’ orbits as projected by a visiting digital projector from Seattle’s Museum of Flight on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019. The planetarium is currently raising money to replace its aging mechanical projector with a digital one. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Digital Planetarium Week  

Mon, Oct 7, 2019 - 12, 2019

The Marie Drake Planetarium will host "Digital Planetarium Week" from Oct. 7 – 12. Seattle’s Museum of Flight will bring their full-dome digital projector. Free public shows for adults and children.

The Marie Drake Planetarium will host "Digital Planetarium Week" from Oct. 7 – 12. Seattle’s Museum of Flight are bringing their full-dome digital projector and portable universe dome. Free public shows for adults and children. These include: Under the Night Sky live interactive presentation and full dome movies. Events held at planetarium.

For more information and to sign up or Facebook page Digital Planetarium Week Juneau.  

We hope the Juneau community will take advantage of this unique opportunity and experience firsthand a modern digital planetarium system. 

The Friends of the Marie Drake Planetarium is within $12,000 of purchasing our  first digital system for Juneau. 

 Donations welcome and we are interested in talking with potential donors during this time.

“Digital Planetarium Week,” The Marie Drake Planetarium, 1415 Glacier Ave. Seattle’s Museum of Flight will bring their full-dome digital projector and portable universe dome. There will be free public shows for adults and children at different times throughout the week. A full schedule of events will be posted at

The Art of Celestial Navigation

University professor gives primer on using the stars to navigateBy Mollie Barnes.  January

To give directions around town, people often use landmarks for reference.

“How do we get to Fred Meyer?” Neil Nickerson asked a packed crowd at the Marie Drake Planetarium Tuesday night.

“Down the road and turn right,” a kid responded.

That was exactly the answer Nickerson was looking for. During Nickerson’s presentation about celestial navigation, he talked about how people get to where they need to go. In the time before Google Maps, people used landmarks to give directions. But out at sea, they had to use “skymarks.”

Most Juneauites know seeing the stars isn’t an everyday occurrence. Cloud cover inhibits stargazing most nights. But ancient sailors relied on these stars to lead the way to other places. The art of celestial navigation is ancient, but it still has some uses today, especially in emergency situations.


Nickerson is an Assistant Professor of Marine Transportation Career Education at the University of Alaska Southeast. He’s a retired U.S. Coast Guard officer, with a variety of experience USCG cutters. After that he worked as a mate aboard various towing vessels and for the Alaska Marine Highway System. He also was the owner of sightseeing charter boat company.

Last fall, he taught the first celestial navigation class at UAS. His talk on Tuesday was just a taste of what students learn in that class.

The class focuses mainly on the techniques of celestial navigation: how to calculate your positioning using pointer stars and trigonometry. The class was first offered in fall 2018, but only three students took it. Nickerson said they didn’t really advertise it at first because he wanted to test run the curriculum. But it will be offered again in fall 2019, and up to 16 people can register for it.

At his planetarium talk, Nickerson briefed the crowd on rudimentary ways to assume your position, such as using sticks to measure the sun’s shadow, similarly to how the Vikings navigated. Polynesians, he said, also used similar techniques. They even had designated apprentices to memorize patterns, wind and swell patterns. While they didn’t understand latitude, their deductive reckoning methods allowed them to successfully navigate among islands.

“Until we find out where we are, we only think we know where we are,” Nickerson said.

He also overviewed modern ways to calculate position.

“We’ve catalogued where all navigational stars are now,” he said. Sailors can reference books with exact times and positions of stars to find more accurate positions. He said the closest he’s gotten lately to finding his position with these methods was within 10 miles.

“I was pretty happy with that,” he said.

Nickerson’s talk on celestial navigation was a part of Marie Drake Planetarium’s monthly public presentation series. 

Marie Drake Planetarium Board Member Clark Branch said anyone is welcome to host a show at the planetarium.

Classical guitarist Eliot Fisk plays “Bach Under the Stars” at the Marie Drake Planetarium as part of Juneau Jazz & Classics on Thursday, May 9, 2019. The music festival continues through May 18. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire

Night Sky Beauty

May 14

Tour of Juneau's night sky by local Astronomers.

Clark Branch and David Hanson will be presenting a tour of the night sky, featuring David's photographs of celestial objects and descriptions of the physics behind the formation and appearance of the objects.

Come and enjoy beautiful views of Galaxies, Star Clusters, Nebulae and more!

Photos: July 2019 First Friday art gallery walk  - Capital City Weekly

Rosemary Walling, a board member of the Marie Drake Planetarium, gives a presentation on the night sky inside a portable planetarium at the Alaska State Museum on Friday, July 5, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

The Marie Drake Planetarium was giving presentations with a portable planetarium at the Alaska State Museum on Friday, July 5, 2019. 
(Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Londi Tomaro takes a picture of her daughter, Moxie, 4, at the Alaska State Museum on Friday, July 5, 2019. The Marie Drake Planetarium was giving presentations with a portable planetarium during the evening. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)