Planetariums Reach for the Stars with New Technologies

Planetariums are a beloved tradition for family outings which are not only highly educational, but usually a lot of fun as well. But considering the incredible progress society has made in the technology of communications in the past 50 years or so, it seems strange that the technology almost every planetarium uses to display the heavens to observers has not changed in any significant ways since its first introduction in 1923, and that is the ‘star ball.’

Now there is a way of supplementing star balls with digital projectors and software, bringing the beauty of the entire universe into the dome shaped screen, the main even at the planetarium in a new and wonderful way.

The inexpensive change, estimated to cost about $38,000, would create a ‘rich and truly interactive experience’ to visitors. The technology is a team project of the University of Washington and Microsoft, and will bring to planetariums all over the U.S. a WorldWide Telescope, foru Sharp XV-Z15000 digital light processing projectors (DLP); a Navitar Screenstar conversion lens; an Nvidia GTX275 video card; and all the cables, switches and seven computers all running Windows 7 with 1TB hard drives and 6GB RAM.

“Planetariums with image resolution of a few million pixels typically cost several hundred thousand dollars,” said Andrew Connolly, team member and University of Washington associate professor of astronomy.

“Our system is about 8 million pixels, but at a fraction of the cost,” he said.

“Their cost is much less than most commercially available systems,” Mark Sonntag, director of the

Angelo State University (ASU) Planetarium.