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Museums of the Night Sky: Combining Fulldome Systems With Optomechanical Starballs for the Best of Both Worlds

Fading to gray is not an option

Fulldome systems provide new versatility under the planetarium dome, offering a universe of immersive, full-color visitor experiences through a growing library of playback content and the ability to navigate 3D databases in real time.

But ironically, as the technology stands today, fulldome can’t quite replicate the element that it tends to replace: the optomechanical star projector. Content-wise, digital displays can soar far beyond the starball’s Earthbound limitations. Presentation-wise, however, digital has difficulty matching the pristine starfield that a high-end optomechanical projector can achieve with simultaneous high brightness, high contrast and high resolution.

Fulldome plus optomechanical? Or fulldome vs. optomechanical? Both are tough subjects to write about. Honoring the legacy of night sky storytelling is a core issue for those venues with dedicated star theaters that for years have relied on the beauty and magnificence of the simulated night sky to achieveaffective educational goals, such as inspiring young people to study astronomy and related sciences. On the vendor side there remains much proprietary disagreement, and on the operator side there has been quite a bit of debate and discussion.

But “A problem is an opportunity in drag,” as Paul Hawken wrote in his influential book, Growing a Business, and numerousplanetarium system vendorshave jumped in to address the issue with combination optical/ digital projection systems for those institutions that desire the versatility of a digital domeand the excellence of an optomechanical sky.

Combining digital and optical systems is not without challenges. Most digital projectors do not produce true blacks, but instead fade to a uniform gray sky. Attempting to overlay digital effects onto the velvet black night sky simulation from a starball can wash out the optical sky, obscuring dimmer stars and the Milky Way. Attaining accurate registration between digital and optical starfields is a geometric challenge, and synchronizing the motion of both skies is an especially difficult technical challenge.


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recent="" presentation="" sepa="" gotodemonstrated="" how="" employs="" motorized="" iris="" video="" projectors="" slider="" console="" adjust="" coordinate="" visuals="" depending="" desired="" effect="" can="" pinch="" off="" most="" gray="" ride="" throttle="" up="" down="" judgment="" go="" along="" pre-program="" show="" recording="" an="" operator="" selections="" traditionally="" keyboard="" mouse="" date="" 15="" packaged="" variously="" helios="" chiron="" chronos="" venues="" college="" san="" mateo="" california="" china="" amp="" technology="" beijing="" sudekum="" nashville="" tennessee="" sendai="" observatory="" preferred="" vendor="" arrangement="" evans="" sutherland="" exclusive="" distributor="" parts="" asia="" also="" available="" through="" spitz="" us="" even="" older="" starballs="" fill="" tens="" thousands="" stars="" much="" smaller="" wider="" dynamic="" range="" brightness="" than="" current="" working="" high="" pales="" when="" compared="" 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won="" compete="" nor="" get="" drowned="" out="" washed="" higher="" price="" balanced="" lower="" long-range="" operating="" costs="" combo="" features="" configurator="" tool="" blending="" works="" separate="" linked="" monitors="" talking="" constellations="" then="" add="" outlines="" grids="" move="" perfectly="" sync="" fly="" sequence="" scene="" where="" less="" important="" switches="" over="" reported="" installations="" total="" 20-plus="" including="" bochum="" germany="" universarium="" santo="" ambre="" brazil="" starmaster="" sb="" 4dome="" sony="" sxrd="" judenburg="" austria="" zkp4="" spacegate="" quinto="" brand="" install="" five-projector="" progress="" fort="" worth="" texas="" history="" recently="" combined="" definiti="" 4k="" konica-minolta="" infinium="" fujitsu="" deanza="" cupertino="" building="" marcus="" weddleof="" reports="" developed="" breed="" emerged="" designed="" specifically="" expensive="" respond="" faster="" because="" photographic="" plates="" millions="" included="" this="" category="" megastar-ii="" megastar-zero="" announced="" ips="" 2008="" interfacefor="" digitalsky="" installation="" megastar="" scheduled="" later="" year="" favor="" href="http://www.blooloop.com/CompanyDetails/Global-Immersion/474" director="" americas="" alan="" caskey="" sees="" all-digital="" solution="" near="" horizon="" enemy="" striving="" faultless="" think="" question="" evolving="" from="" should="" my="" really="" true-black="" clearly="" leading="" contenders="" game="" 2010="" become="" setting="" benchmark="" continues="" enhance="" astronomy="" impression="" pays="" officer="" travel="" comments="" make="" regional="" conferences="" conference="" discuss="" travels="" inform="" me="" widely-held="" misconception="" zorro="" june="" demonstrated="" fidelity="" uses="" high-contrast="" led-based="" light="" engines="" having="" lamp="" lifetimes="" said="" exceed="" 100="" 000="" hours="" limited="" domes="" m="" indicates="" something="" community="" their="" levels="" increase="" claiming="" place="" reporting="" 30="" 000:1="" native="" d-ila="" adler="" chicago="" keeping="" best="" seats="" ryan="" wyatt="" visualization="" morrison="" academy="" sciences="" francisco="" so="" needs="" too="" chose="" keep="" house="" center="" eschew="" reinterpreted="" traditional="" optomechanical="" give="" analog="" fully="" chabot="" american="" natural="" rose="" retired="" denver="" skipped="" altogether="" observes="" dan="" neafus="" gates="" 1="" visitors="" received="" only="" three="" written="" complaint="" letters="" public="" lack="" pristine="" none="" updated="" 2007="" added="" remains="" wide="" opinions="" topic="" vs="" hearty="" debate="" roots="" early="" 1970s="" replaced="" likely="" continue="" decades="" more="" future="" columns="" explore="" issue="" additional="" input="" users="" vendors="" audiences="" upcoming="" events="" goes="" schedule="" theater="" screening="" during="" astc="" 2009="" october="" 31-november="" fulllength="" version="" touching="" edge="" universe="" boasts="" live-action="" footage="" captured="" special="" fisheye="" camera="" purpose="" full="" screen="" attendees="" glpa="" meeting="" bay="" city="" michigan="" 21="" produced="" university="" applied="" kiel="" esa="" european="" space="" agency="" cooperation="" number="" planetariums="" switzerland="" after="" premiere="" german="" speaking="" may="" distribution="" format="" kit="" classical="" made="" international="" tells="" exciting="" story="" comparable="" motion="" picture="" actors="" stunning="" visual="" effects="" conveying="" concise="" information="" herschel-planck="" missions="" general="" trailer="" shown="" annual="" showcase="" morning="" monday="" november="" organized="" every="" sampling="" content="" library="" must-see="" anyone="" considering="" shuttle="" buses="" run="" convention="" nearby="" arlington="" note:="" pre-register="" attend="" tend="" book="" based="" advance="" signups="" domefest="" coming="" nearly="" here="" annualcelebration="" sessions="" screenings="" socializing="" arts="" lab="" albuquerque="" mexico="" takes="" september="" 25-27="" festival="" world="" j="" walt="" adamcyzk="" performancetheomnicentric="" well="" juried="" domie="" awards="" highlights="" oftouching="" universeand="" making="" offragile="" planet="" imersa="" details="" org="" looking="" further="" ahead="" mark="" calendars="" held="" 7-8="" course="" bibliotheca="" alexandrina="" alexandria="" egypt="" come="" article="" appeared="" theplanetarian="" published="" society="" http:="" ips-planetarium="" reprinted="" onimersa="" orgwith="" kind="" permission="" span="" id="ctl00_Main_lblArticleTitle">Images:From top
Central placement of the 2 JVC video projectors on either side of the GOTO CHIRON allow for 100% fulldome coverage with no starball shadow on the dome at Fujisawa, Japan the most recent HYBRID dome. Image courtesy GOTO.
Zeiss’ powerdome® workstation. Shown here is the demo unit; customers can purchase the computer system plus the projector and mini dome to preview content in a remote location. It’s compact and requires little space. The Velvet project. Photos courtesy Zeiss
One of Sky-Skan’s Megastar starballs; this one is about the size of a basketball! Image courtesy Ohira Tech Ltd.

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