Cosmic Castaways – Introduction

By on October 9, 2013 in

Science on the Half Sphere’s first full-length planetarium show is Cosmic Castaways.  In this series of posts, we will talk about how the show was made.  The goal is to help other people interested in making full-dome planetarium shows see what we did, and hopefully avoid our mistakes!

Astronomers never seem to want to do anything easy – Peter Stetson

The idea for Cosmic Castaways started when I began working at Youngstown State University, and I was teaching introductory astronomy in our Ward Beecher Planetarium.  One of the great things about the Ward Beecher Planetarium is it does three things at the same time:

    1. It is a classroom for our introductory astronomy classes.
    2. We show planetarium shows to K-12 students.
    3. It is a planetarium that serves the general public.
Sci-Dome Ward Beecher

Our Sci-Dome digital projector, in the center of the Ward Beecher Planetarium


Besides the classic planetarium projector, we also had something I had not seen before – a digital planetarium projector.  These projectors are basically a fish-eye lens projector attached to a computer.  They allow you to project the sky digitally, but they also allow for something else – all-dome movies. The planetarium had already purchased several all-dome movies from vendors that were amazing in content and in presentation.





Promotion Poster for Black Holes - The Other Side of Infinity

Promotion Poster for Black Holes – The Other Side of Infinity


One of these movies was Black Holes – The Other Side of Infinity, which was a joint production of Thomas Lucas Productions, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, NOVA, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, NASA and the National Science Foundation (NSF).  Black Holes was narrated by the actor Liam Neeson. This movie really impressed me and my astronomy students.








The movie got me thinking – Why couldn’t we make our own digital planetarium movies? I later found that Black Holes had a very large budget, and that Liam Neeson wouldn’t take my phone calls, but I thought we could make an all-dome movie at a more modest scale that would still be good.

My own astronomical research is in the field of intracluster stars, stars that exist between galaxies, and I knew we had some amazing images and computer simulations we could put into a movie. We proposed to the NSF to create an all-dome movie about intracluster stars, and we got the funding.  Next, we had to build a team of people to actually make the show.

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