Planetarium Converts to Digital Technology

In the end, there was no one left at the Zeiss Optical Co. in Germany who knew as much about the Morehead Planetarium’s 40-year-old analog star projector as the planetarium’s staff — that’s how outdated the behemoth centerpiece of the star theater was.

The Morehead finally is joining the worldwide planetarium shift to digital with a $1.5 million gift from GlaxoSmithKline, enabling it to replace the Zeiss with what’s known in the industry as full-dome digital video technology.

The star theater has been renamed the GlaxoSmithKline Fulldome Theater.

“I’ve been dreaming about today for about 10 years,” said Chancellor Holden Thorp ’86, who directed the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center from 2001 to ’05 and had tried then to secure the funding to go digital. “Just don’t ever say we can’t do something.”

Appropriate to the planetarium’s history as a gateway to UNC for schoolchildren, third-graders from McDougle Elementary School in Carrboro and Charles E. Perry Elementary School in Roseboro were the first to watch a full-dome digital show.

The technology is a world-class projection system that puts Morehead in the same class as the National Museum of Air and Space, the American Museum of Natural History and the Griffith Observatory. The system can be programmed for any type of science show, while the Zeiss knows only astronomy. And the digital format will enable the Morehead to present shows created elsewhere and to market shows it creates to others.

Morehead visitors will experience the new technology directly through super-high-definition 4,000-by-4,000 pixel resolution, a digital surround-sound system and reconfigured seating for better sight lines. Full-dome digital video creates an immersive environment in which each visitor is surrounded by the sights and sounds of the planetarium show.

The theater will reopen to the public Feb. 5. It is the largest full-dome installation in the southeastern United States. Morehead expects more than 160,000 visitors, including nearly 85,000 schoolchildren, during the next year.

More online…

  • Inner Space: The endearing Morehead, at the dawn of a new mission, is due for some tough love.
    From the November/December 2006 issue of the Carolina Alumni Review, available online to Carolina Alumni members.
  • Blue Heavens: On a campus swirling with change, we treasure our constants. Now the University wants to know whether 50-year-old Morehead Planetarium can survive as one of them.
    From the March/April 1999 issue of the Carolina Alumni Review, available online to Carolina Alumni members.
  • The Sun, Moon and Stars May No Longer Be Enough
    From the March/April 1999 issue of the Carolina Alumni Review

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