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Back in Black: Upgraded Projector Enriches Dome Experience

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As dazzling as Hayden Planetarium programs have always been, their impact has been magnified many-fold by a recent $2 million upgrade. In essence, the projection system has caught up with the science, making it possible for audiences to see thousands of stars that astrophysicists had been able to identify and even include in various space visualizations but which didn’t show up on the dome’s surface because of technological constraints.

A key feature of the new system is the ability to convey true black as well as allowing for brighter colors, which translates into many more visible stars. The upgrade increased the video projector’s contrast ratio between light and dark to 500,000 to 1.  (By comparison, most movie theater projectors have a ratio of only 2,000 to 1.) The new system will also be able to project 10-bit color—a major technological leap that required Museum engineers to develop a new file format, in addition to reconfiguring and building new servers.  The result is greater depth of color and smoother, more natural-looking color gradients.

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This image of the Milky Way over New York City is shown using the new projection system on one side (left of the red line) and the previous system on the other side (right of the red line). 

Image: © AMNH/D. Finnin.


The improved effect of the new projection system was vividly apparent at a trial run in the Hayden Planetarium earlier this month when a projection from the previous system was shown side by side with one from the upgrade.  One half of the dome showed a darkened sky with the a view of the Sun, a smattering of stars, and a few trails of interstellar gases; the other, newer projection showed the Sun surrounded by a veritable explosion of stars, gas trails, and dense, cloud-like masses of stars easily recognizable as part of the Milky Way.

Whether used in presentations of the Museum’s Digital Universe—a detailed, four-dimensional atlas of the cosmos— or the Museum’s Space Shows, the new projection system offers a more accurate view of the universe.

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