Before this summer’s completion of a two-and-a-half-year gut renovation project, the dome-ceilinged Sky Theater had remained much the same since 1930. Famously, in a much ballyhooed move, John McCain scoffed in 2008 at earmarked money to buy a new “overhead projector” to replace a 1970-installed, bulky Zeiss relic.
But the technology that runs the new Grainger Sky Theater isn’t just an overhead projector. An image is formed from 20 projectors, more than any other theater in the world; 45 computers run those projectors with the help of an additional 84 IBM blade servers. To put it in perspective, chief technology officer Doug Roberts says, “Fourteen years ago, this would’ve been the world’s fastest supercomputer.”
This supercomputer exists partly so you can zone out and watch stars whiz by. Adler staffers reconfigured the theater, removing the bulky centralized projection system and lowering the dome, bringing you closer to the picture. To make you feel as if you’re whirring through galaxies, 400 LED pucks installed in the floor blink on and off. At special events, like school group screenings, detailed images of real planets and stars appear at the click of an iPad or Xbox controller.
The first space show, Deep Space Adventure, debuts on Friday 8. It features an alien narrator who takes you (leaning back in comfy seats) to explore distant planets. The film—made in-house by Adler staffers and partners (including script writer Nick Sagan, astrophysicist Carl Sagan’s son)—uses data sets to create images of space phenomena, from the dizzyingly large Earth to the literal edges of the known universe.
“Unless you’ve been to space, this is the closest you’ll come,” Roberts states in all seriousness. And he’s not just talking to the casual sky-show viewer. For the first time, NASA employees and university students who've gathered data of space get to see those numbers stitched together to create super-detailed images. This allows astronomers and Ph.D.s further space research—thanks to the help of a few overhead projectors.
Deep Space Adventure screens daily every 30 minutes at the [node:33714 link=Adler Planetarium;] starting July 8.