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Atmosphere (March 20-25, 2007)

Kresimir Zimonic


Victor Zaveduk

Beyond the Atmosphere: Inside the Adler Planetarium

Chicago, Illinois, USA

Saturday, March 24th, 2007 • 8:30am Local (CDT) • 1330 UCT

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© 2007 Victor Zaveduk, Some Rights Reserved. Creative Commons License



When the sun shines, we look up into a clear sky filled with light – literally – as what we see is the scattering of light from the sun by the gases and other particles which make up our atmosphere. From deep blues to glorious reds, the daytime sky is filled with color and light. On a clear day, we can see for miles!

At night, however, the sky grows dark and our vista expands beyond mere miles. When the stars come out, we can see across the span of countless trillions of miles and millions of years into the past.

Sadly, for those of us who live in or near cities, the sky is rarely dark at night. Dust, smoke, soot and other pollutants, streetlights, billboards, homes and businesses aglow fill the night sky with a different light, a man-made one. The urban view of the night sky is a pale comparison to the one afforded those lucky enough to live where the sky is truly clear at night.

What if we could make the atmosphere disappear? Temporarily of course! Or at least turn off all the lights and magically eliminate all the dust and pollution? We can’t really do either, here in Chicago, but in the Adler Planetarium we can simulate it. Using a sophisticated projector, the night sky is recreated on the surface of a hemispherical dome. We can relax in comfortable reclining chairs, soak up the “atmosphere”, as it were, and view the sky as it would appear from any place, and from any time, on Earth.

The Adler Planetarium recently celebrated its 75th anniversary and is the oldest Planetarium in the United States. In addition to the historic Zeiss Planetarium Theater captured in this panorama, the Adler houses a wonderful museum, featuring a world class collection of antique astronomical instruments and the world’s first all digital projection theater. The Planetarium is also a leader in science education with programs for astronomy enthusiasts of all ages. For additional information visit: http://adlerplanetarium.org


This panorama was created using a Nikon D80 camera equipped with a Nikor 10.5mm wide-angle lens, mounted on a Nodal-Ninja SPH-1 spherical bracket atop a Manfrotto 055MF4 Tripod. The images were stitched using PanoTools and PTGui (version 6), postprocessed with Photoshop CS2, and compiled using Pano2QTVR.

Making the panorama:  Spheres inside spheres

I find this panorama interesting on many levels. Of course there’s the subject matter itself. As a city dweller, I miss seeing stars at night and greatly enjoy camping out in parts of the country where the sky does get dark at night. Beyond that, however, there are numerous resonances between the technologies used both to view this panorama, and the image being viewed. QTVR projections are a form of virtual reality, as is the projection created within the planetarium. The former projects an image on the inside of a virtual sphere, the latter projects one on a real life dome. The panoramic image of the nighttime skyline projected on the dome is captured in this panoramic image of the theater. Boxes inside boxes or, more appropriately, spheres inside spheres.

On a more technical note, the image you see is not real in the sense that in order to get a “dark, starry sky” above and a view of the theater and the controls below, a composite of two different exposures was used to create this panorama. The glow at the top of the image is the result of having lights shining up on the projector during the procedure. This was purposefully done to highlight the dome itself. In the normal course of a sky show, the theater is in almost complete darkness.

The sky projected on the dome accurately represents the position of the stars near the time the image was created. North is behind the control panel, the city is to the west and darkness over Lake Michigan is to the east. Taurus is clearly visible rising in the east, Ursa Major (the Big Dipper) is setting behind the buildings of the city. Andromeda is high overhead; look for the Andromeda galaxy just outside the lighted part of the dome. Other constellations are there if you look for them. The sun and moon were not projected.

Many thanks go out to the staff of the Adler Planetarium, especially Mark Webb, the Theaters Manager, for allowing me the opportunity to come in and create this image.

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