The Planetarium

The Planetarium

The planetarium as we know it today is essentially a new technology. Often called the planetarium theater or dome, the room itself is marked by a domed ceiling, onto which astronomical bodies are projected.

The Greeks are credited with creating a device which could predict the motions of the Sun, Moon, and the planets known at the time (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn). These devices became known as an orrery. Other early planetarium-like models included the painting of stars and constellations on walls and ceilings, and large domes with theater-like star effects.

A small orrery, a physical model, showing earth and the inner planets is shown.
A small orrery showing earth and the inner planets Orrery small by Kaptain Kobold is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The first modern-era planetarium was designed and built by the Carl Zeiss Company in Jena, Germany and installed in the Deutsches Museum in Munich. The stars were projected onto a plaster dome.

The Zeiss Mark I Planetarium Projector is shown.
The Zeiss Mark I Planetarium Projector was the first installed planetarium projector; Deutsches Museum Munich, Germany 1923 ZeissMark1 by Unknown is in the Public Domain

Advances in electronics and Space Race demand for science education pushed more museums, colleges and school districts to install planetariums. Over the years, the planetarium has developed into a multi-dimensional theater, combining all-dome film systems, special effects, and even all-dome planetarium projectors to give students and audiences a modern look at astronomy and the sciences.

Outlines of constellations are displayed on a planetarium wall.
A planetarium can also project other graphics, such as constellation outlines. Ncp 2 by Gawin is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0