Planetariums Hang On

Tue 2017-12-10 05:50 -0500

This is a post from the previous incarnation of this blog and I am repeating it here to test of the new site.

To paraphrase Monty Python, planetaria aren’t dead yet. I think they’re getting better. First, Hal tells me about visiting the Fiske Planetarium in Boulder, CO, with their new 8K projector. Then, on the same day, I see a story from about a new 8K planetarium in Jersey City at the Liberty Science Center Jennifer Chalsty Planetarium.

The Chalsty is a (almost) 90-foot dome. I’m starting to expect that I might very well see what I, and others, have imagined for many years: a full display surface planetarium with no projector. It’s probably getting close to being practical with LED technology. Imagine a smart phone screen the size of a 90-foot, okay maybe 40-foot, hemispherical dome.

But is a dome really necessary and worth the cost, as they say? When you look at the sky, you only look at a part of it a time. Sure, you can look around in a dome but usually the show is directing your attention to a particular location. Most of the time you are just looking at information that’s displayed straight ahead. Maybe a large, high-def screen that fills your field of vision is good enough. You can show an audience the night sky on a screen like that with careful handling of zooming in and out and showing them the context of the sky, then zooming in on details.

So, even though I’m excited about the idea of planetariums continuing, I wonder if they fill any practical purpose other than to be a novelty. Don’t get me wrong, though. I’m all for novelty.