The $5.2 million astronomy center, located at the intersection of Rangeley Road and Long Road near Hilltop Commons, hosts the Maynard F. Jordan Planetarium and Observatory. The center replaces the more than 60-year-old planetarium located in Wingate Hall and the more than 100-year-old telescope formerly housed in the Jordan Observatory near the Maine Bound barn.
“I’ve been involved in the design and construction process through and through, and it’s like a whole different animal [than the previous Jordan Planetarium],” said Emera Astronomy Center director Alan Davenport. “The amount of technology is outstanding. There are eight computers that power the planetarium alone.”
The 7,400-square-foot center utilizes a 55-seat planetarium dome 33 feet in diameter — the largest in the state — and a state-of-the-art Definiti projection system. The adjacent 618-square-foot observatory houses a 20-inch observatory telescope is also Maine’s largest. The center’s innovative exterior lighting system is designed to maximize darkness when stargazing, and the center itself is heated with geothermal heat pumps, the first UMaine building to do so.
“This center will inspire young people’s curiosity,” Davenport said, referring to the numerous K-12 groups that utilize the center. “UMaine students were essential in designing and constructing this facility; students and staff are the lifeblood of these types of educational opportunities.”
The Emera Center is designed to enhance UMaine role in outreach to K-12 students and the education of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education.
“We felt it was way past time we stepped up the quality, the scale and the style of the facility,” Davenport told the Maine Campus in September 2013. According to Davenport, the new center will offer educational opportunities outside astronomy thanks to the center’s digital visualization system.
“Everybody will be blown away by the Emera Center’s power,” said UMaine President Susan Hunter, who had been given a preview of certain Emera Center programs. “We’ve known at UMaine for a long time the importance of observing the universe; the Emera Center helps us further that goal.”
The center was funded by an anonymous couple’s $3.2 million donation, as well as $1 million naming gift from Emera, the parent company of Emera Maine, along with other UMaine funding. Designed cooperatively by WBRC and planetarium design specialists Kasian, the center was built by Nickerson & O’Day, a Maine-based construction firm, who broke ground in April 2013.
“Only a handful of post-secondary institutions have planetariums,” Kasian Principal Architect Bill Chomik said. “[The Emera Center] is one of the largest, most advanced, most educationally-focused planetarium in Maine. It encourages user engagement.”
The Emera Center hosts public events within the planetarium, as well as public telescope viewings. The center’s schedule can be viewed at astro.umaine.edu.