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Q&A with Brian Abbott of The Digital Universe

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The Digital Universe Atlas, a scientifically accurate 3D atlas of the known universe assembled and maintained by scientists at the Museum’s Hayden Planetarium, gives audiences the chance to “fly” through space. On Tuesday, November 29, Digital Universe Manager Brian Abbott and research scientist Jackie Faherty will lead the Grand Tour of the Universe. The program, which starts at 6:30 pm, will take viewers to nearby stars, exoplanets, and the most distant objects known in the cosmos, revealing where Earth is in the universe and how it came to be. Abbott recently answered a few questions about his experiences presenting in the Dome.

How long did it take you to learn how to “fly” through the universe in the Dome?

Learning to navigate in the Dome is not straightforward. It takes a few weeks of training to learn the subtleties of being an effective guide. Beyond learning the software, which can be done on a flat screen, one must learn to be mindful of the view from every perspective in the concentrically oriented planetarium. It’s the universe-in-the-round, and everyone ought to have a good view.

Where is your favorite place to explore, and why?

I love seeing the exoplanets in conjunction with the boundary of our radio signals in the solar neighborhood. For me, this signifies where one scientific frontier lies, and holds the promise of a multitude of future scientific discoveries. It shows that there’s still a lot to learn, even in our own cosmic backyard.

The Hayden Planetarium Space Theater upgraded its projection system over the summer. How has that changed the experience in the Dome?

The most extraordinary difference is the black level of the projectors, which bathe the Dome in darkness once again. The sensation of being under a dark, inky sky, where you can’t see your hand in front of your face, has returned to the Dome, transporting everyone to a place outside the context of the theater. Add to that the new color enhancements, and the immersive experience inside the Hayden Planetarium is better than ever.

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