HomeBack IssuesMembershipCarnegie Museums of PittsburghMedia Kit

A Star-studded Debut

Buhl Planetarium goes digital, altering the way hundreds of thousands of regional schoolchildren will learn about the sky—and marking an astronomical first step in a plan designed to transform Carnegie Science Center.

“The new Buhl Digital Dome is awesome. It’s a great place for families, especially over the holidays when we’ll be showing ‘The Christmas Star’ planetarium show.”


The new high-resolution Buhl Digital Dome at Carnegie Science Center is taking exploration from the seat of a planetarium to exciting new dimensions.

If you think you’ve done the planetarium thing—think again. Buhl Digital Dome is not your father’s planetarium. And we’re not just talking about a name change.

In late September, full-dome digital technology literally transformed the renowned Henry Buhl, Jr. Planetarium & Observatory at Carnegie Science Center into Buhl Digital Dome, providing real-time capabilities once unimaginable. It’s still a thing of dreams for more than 90 percent of all planetariums worldwide.

As it has been for decades, the magnificence of the universe—eclipses and shooting stars and the now demoted dwarf planet Pluto and everything in between—is live at the planetarium every day. One extraordinary difference is the ability for viewers to now watch the drama unfold—in real time—almost as it happens. It’s like a reality show starring the solar system.

“ Within hours of NASA making an announcement, we can have images of the event or discovery directly from their telescopes up on the dome for people to see and discuss,” says John Radzilowicz, director of visitor experience at Carnegie Science Center, home to the new, groundbreaking digital projection system DigitalSky, purchased in May 2006 thanks to a $1 million gift from the Buhl Foundation.

The high-definition system projects film-quality presentations onto the planetarium’s entire 50-foot dome. And its multi-media capabilities allow the use of everything from live downloads of the latest images and updates from NASA’s unmanned space missions and ground-based observatories to video clips, still images, and animation—tooling programmers with almost endless possibilities for teaching, not to mention jaw-dropping effects.

And then there’s the ability to ‘fly’ wherever you want through the universe—so sit back, relax, and name your destination.

“Within a presentation we now have the ability to ask viewers what they’d like to see. It’s incredibly interactive,” says Radzilowicz. “We’re at Mars but Johnny wants to go to Pluto—and within seconds, we’re there.”

And when ‘flying’ to a planet—made possible through a behind-the-scenes database developed by NASA—not only can visitors see where the sun is located at that very moment, but how it will be lit later that evening or 10 years from now through a three-dimensional rendering of space that is visually and mathematically accurate. Kids won’t be surprised to know that, fittingly, the system is in part directed by a joystick.

Shooting for the stars is anything but new for the 150-seat Buhl Planetarium—officially renamed Buhl Digital Dome early this fall to reflect its new capabilities. It has the ability to project digital images of any kind, starting with planets and the cosmos and expanding to everything from advances in biology and biotechnology, medicine, nanotechnology, environmental studies, engineering and architecture. Shows already provide journeys through the human body and the ocean floor.

“The new Buhl Digital Dome is awesome,” says Joanna Haas, Henry Buhl, Jr. director of Carnegie Science Center. “It’s a great place for families, especially over the holidays when we’ll be showing ‘The Christmas Star’ planetarium show using the new digital system.”

The debut show, "Windows to the Universe," wows audiences by showcasing the system’s potential. The first original production by the Buhl Digital Dome team, a virtual trip to Mars based on William K. Hartmann's book, "A Traveler's Guide to Mars," will premiere next spring.

“ For decades, thousands of children and adults have been inspired by what they have seen in the Buhl Planetarium,” says Doreen Boyce, president of the Buhl Foundation. “This new technology is the most advanced teaching tool of its kind, and it will inspire and educate many more thousands of people for years to come.”

Thanks in no small way to the ongoing generosity of the Buhl Foundation, the Planetarium has indeed packed plenty of star power over the years, producing presentations currently shown in 400 planetariums worldwide in 21 countries, and translated into 18 languages. But before DigitalSky, projections were stitched together. Now, the all-in-one solution uses two lenses to project full-color, three-dimensional images—the most advanced digital dome know-how in the world—providing viewers a true feeling of immersion, which will generate even more production capability and revenue.

This addition also marks the first step in the largest transformation of visitor experiences at Carnegie Science Center since its arrival on the North Shore in 1991. The long-range plan centers on the Science Center’s own unique strengths as well as those of the regional technical community—rivers and our environment, robotics, sports, health and the body, and the “basic building blocks of science”—to spark scientific curiosity in young children.

Back | Top