Stories in the Sky: A History of Planetariums
Stories in the Sky: A History of Planetariums — Transcript
JACQUELINE FAHERTY (Astrophysicist, Hayden Planetarium): My life really began when I walked into the Hayden Planetarium and I saw the sky in that theater and I absolutely fell in love.
MARTHA GILMORE (Planetary Geologist, Wesleyan University): I wanted to become a scientist because of the Planetarium. This is where I started.
NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON (Director, Hayden Planetarium): I’m an astrophysicist today because of a first encounter with a planetarium.
FAHERTY: The classic way people mostly think about planetariums is this gorgeous nighttime sky that’s projected into a dome.
TYSON: That’s not what it always was. You go back one hundred, two hundred, three hundred years ago, the word planetarium represented any device that showed you what the planets did.
PEDRO RAPOSO (Curator/Director of Collections, Adler Planetarium): The planetarium has a long history that goes back to antiquity. In the Middle Ages, we start having astronomical clocks in cathedrals.
JAMES SWEITZER (Former Project Director, Hayden Planetarium/Rose Center): And in that model of the universe, the Earth is at the center. And so the proper way to visualize that is with an armillary.
RAPOSO: And what you see is that devices that were previously used to simulate and recreate the planetary motions according to the old Earth-centric astronomy, these gradually morph into devices that show you the motions of the planets around the Sun.
TYSON: You have these things called orreries. You turn it and the planets move around the Sun-centric model.
RAPOSO: A properly built orrery will show you the planetary motions at their correct orbital rates.
SWEITZER: I firmly believe that all of these devices, they’re intended to model the universe on one hand, but on the other hand, they’re displays of the latest, greatest tech.
TYSON: It would take until the 1920s for somebody to figure out that there’s another way to show what the planets are doing. Why not have a planetarium be a thing that represents not only the solar system, but all of what we might know in the universe? How about all the stars of the night sky? The 1920s, quantum physics is discovered. The expanding universe is discovered by Edwin Hubble. A watershed decade in science in general, but especially for planetariums. The Carl Zeiss company invents a mechanical-optical projector and it transformed the field. This is something that puts stars completely on a dome that surrounds you.
CARTER EMMART (Director of Astrovisualization, Hayden Planetarium): You have essentially a bright light in the middle of a sphere. The sphere has lenses to focus, star plates, it divides the sky up into patches. The planets, because they move back and forth across the sky, had to be independently controlled with their own motors.
TYSON: It was most people’s first introduction to what’s actually going on in the night sky. As well-known as the Hayden Planetarium is here in New York City, it was not the first planetarium in the country.
COLIN DAVEY (Author/Historian): The Adler Planetarium was the first American planetarium.
TYSON: And of course, that was equipped with the new mechanical-optical projector that had just been invented a few years earlier. A New York financier, Charles Hayden, was visiting Chicago. He saw that first planetarium.
KENNETH MERIN (President, The Charles Hayden Foundation): Charles Hayden grew up in Boston. He went to public schools, he went to MIT, started his financial career in Boston and then moved down to New York City. He was walking through the American Museum of Natural History one day when he came upon a man who was working on a set of plans. Mr. Hayden asked what he was working on, and the man said, “A new planetarium.” He was told that the planetarium could not open without a new star projector.
DAVEY: Because it turned out that the New Deal programs weren’t willing to fund the Zeiss projector, because it was foreign made. But fortunately, Hayden had seen the Adler Planetarium the previous summer.
TYSON: And he was moved, not only intellectually, but even spiritually.
MERIN: Mr. Hayden said, “How much do you need?” The man told him. And Mr. Hayden said, “You got it.”
TYSON: Hayden said, “I want one of those in my hometown.” It’s important not only as an educational tool, but as something to have us appreciate sort of the majesty of this universe in which we live.
MERIN: And there was the beginning of the Hayden Planetarium.
ANNOUNCER: In the year 1957, man reached beyond the surface confines of his own planet for the first time in all history.
SWEITZER: When Sputnik was launched in ’57, America got an inferiority complex, an education inferiority complex. We needed to catch up.
EMMART: This really catapulted us into the Space Age. And the planetarium was a place to flock to, to understand our place in space.
SWEITZER: And space was the new frontier. Space is the place where science will take us.
DAVEY: So that all throughout the 1950s and the 1960s, attendance figures grew every year to record levels.
TYSON: This put huge pressure on planetariums to keep up over those decades.
EMMART: The story of the 1980s and ’90s was innovation in computer graphics growing by leaps and bounds.
SWEITZER: And that became the turning point. So now we could model anything. We didn’t have to just be going round and round racetrack or just spheres within spheres within spheres. We could go really into the deep universe.
EMMART: The Hayden Planetarium, as a millennium project, looked at what the planetarium of the 21st century might be.
TYSON: The digital projector has opened up all of modern astrophysics to the public.
EMMART: For the first time, we were able to go from the view looking out, to going into sky.
FAHERTY: To lift off the Earth and fly among the stars is what most kids want to do. And we can tell kids the stories of the stars. And all of a sudden now you’re teaching them about physics. You’re teaching them about math. You’re teaching them about the fundamental laws of the universe.
TYSON: So now you have the power of computing and the fact that we are now obtaining data on the universe in digital format, not only through earthbound and space-borne telescopes, but also from space probes themselves that are actually visiting planets.
FAHERTY: That demands three-dimensional visualization tools.
GILMORE: You have to see it. That’s why we take students in the field. And this is the field for planets, right? I can’t take a student to Mars. But I can take them here, and we can go through a canyon on Mars and think about, “Wow, those layers in that canyon are ten meters tall.” That feeling of absolute giving yourself over to the wonder of being on another planetary body is only something that can happen when you’re immersed in this room.
FAHERTY: We are flying through data in a way that no astronomer back a hundred, two hundred, three hundred years, could have ever imagined.
TYSON: So it’s no longer coming to the planetarium saying, “I wonder what the sky is gonna look like tonight?” It’s coming to the planetarium and saying, “Where are you gonna take me on this next voyage?”
How did planetariums go from showing the movements of the Sun, Moon, and other planetary bodies with armillary spheres to using cutting edge visualization software? In this video, learn about the evolution of these scientific tools and the latest technology being used inside our own Hayden Planetarium that lets visitors be transported to other worlds.