The secret is revealed!

nextgiantleap_lowWe’ve installed a fulldome digital video system that will completely, radically, astonishingly change the way you experience planetarium shows. And you’ll be able to experience the immersive environment of fulldome digital video at Morehead beginning Feb. 5, 2010.

This is our Next Giant Leap — our biggest change in 40 years. And we thank GlaxoSmithKline for making this possible with a generous $1.5 million gift to Morehead. We’ve renamed the Star Theater to commemorate this change; it’s now the GlaxoSmithKline Fulldome Theater.

Be one of the first to check it out, because you’ll want to tell all of your friends about the new fulldome shows. There’s “Astronaut,” from the National Space Centre. “Black Holes: Journey into the Unknown,” from Museum Victoria. And a new fulldome version of an original Morehead production, “Earth, Moon and Sun.”

So what’s different about fulldome? There’s an app — I mean, a Top Ten List for that:

  1. New Shows

    In addition to the multimedia shows, there are changes to “Carolina Skies,” too. Now you can view the universe from any point in space, even beyond our solar system!
  2. Super HD and Better Sight Lines

    Fulldome’s 4000×4000 pixel resolution is like high definition on steroids. And the theater seating has been rearranged, so every seat faces the “sweet spot” of the dome.
  3. Surround Sound

    Yeah, 5.1 channel digital surround sound, baby!
  4. Immersion

    This is the numero uno characteristic of fulldome — the sensation that you are surrounded by the planetarium show, right in the middle of things. (Which is good until you get chased by the dinosaur in “Earth, Moon and Sun.”)
  5. More Science

    Analog planetarium projectors are great at projecting astronomy and space images, but they aren’t so good at projecting images from oceanography and medicine and other science disciplines. Guess what? Fulldome is great at projecting all kinds of science images! So as Morehead adds new shows, you’ll see more science disciplines reflected in show content.
  6. Less Equipment

    Guess how many pieces of equipment Morehead needed with its analog system? More than 50 different projectors (slide and video) in addition to the Zeiss star projector, plus dozens of custom-built special effects — at least several hundred pieces of equipment. That’s no longer a problem. The fulldome system has two projectors and an array of graphics computers that replace all of that analog stuff. This is a very good thing.
  7. Revenue

    Since fulldome is based on universal standards, the shows Morehead produces to use here can be used just as easily by any other fulldome planetarium. In fact, the new version of “Earth, Moon and Sun” has been leased to four planetariums in the U.S. already.
  8. Fresh Schedules

    Morehead can lease shows FROM other planetariums as well as TO other planetariums. So you’ll see new shows on the schedule more often.
  9. Mobility

    Can’t come to Morehead? Morehead comes to you! Morehead’s new PLANETS Portable Planetarium Program uses fulldome technology, too, so it can bring fulldome shows to schools that are too far from Morehead to plan a field trip here.
  10. Brand Identity

    We’ve been producing planetarium shows for years. Now, we’re going international. Planetariums in Brazil and Hong Kong have already asked about leasing Morehead’s first original fulldome production, and more original Morehead shows are in the works.

That all sounds wonderful, but we know you’ll want to see this for yourself. So we’ll be looking for you soon. Come experience fulldome digital video, Morehead’s Next Giant Leap!

Kudos to Laura Walters for creating the image Morehead is using with its "Next Giant Leap" theme.


  1. Hooray! It finally happened! Very exciting. My dad actually scanned the N&O article to send to me, as he was excited too.

    Although, now I have the dubious distinction of having “back in my day, we had to align those 50-odd projectors by hand” stories at the ripe old age of 24. We had to align them barefoot in the snow and uphill both ways, you know.

    The big question on my mind, though: does Z get a big retirement party?


  2. Well, I have to say I’m very disappointed that the Zeiss projector will be retired. It’s clarity was outstanding and now that Zeiss has a ZKP4 there was no reason to switch to basically a movie projector. I would have looked for more sponsorship and reached the two million mark it would have cost for a new Zeiss projector.

    I’ve been in planatariums with the Zeiss ZKP4 and a movie projector will never be able to represent as many stars as a Zeiss. The technology is not even close.

    It’s sad to see a step back in progress. I guess I’ll be visiting other planataruims.

    Todd Jenkins

  3. Todd, thanks for sharing your comments. The Zeiss ZKP4 is a good piece of equipment, and if all we did was star shows, it would probably be adequate.

    But Morehead does more than star shows — a lot more. We’ve expanded our educational programs to encompass many science disciplines (reflecting the variety of science programs at UNC), supporting North Carolina’s educational system. We needed a projection system that does a superior job at communicating science content from many disciplines, not only astronomy. And now we have one.

    Now, Morehead visitors (and we hope you’ll continue to be one of those) will be able to see fulldome content that takes them under the ocean, inside the human body and beyond the Earth-based viewpoint of our old equipment. This is no step back — it’s a giant leap forward!

    Karen Kornegay

  4. I’ll elaborate a bit on Karen’s post. As she said, while opto-mechanical star projectors typically do a first-rate job of projecting the stars as they appear from Earth, in the end, that’s all they do. It is becoming increasingly difficult for planetariums & science centers to justify spending hundreds of thousands (for small planetariums) to millions (for large planetariums) of dollars on systems that are so narrowly focused in content. While those of us who are astronomy devotees tend to place a high premium on the precise quality of simulated stars, the practical reality these days for science centers is that they usually cannot justify concentrating so much in the way of capital resource into a technology that is mono-purpose, especially now that digital technology opens up so many additional possibilities.

    All artificial star fields are simulations, and none replicate the night sky perfectly. Our Zeiss Mark-VI falls short is this regard. Its star positions aren’t always accurate — in fact, some stars are as much as a degree or more off. (The digital system is far superior with its star positions.) Also, the Zeiss VI stars don’t all resemble what is seen in nature. In particular, the 1st magnitude (brightest) stars look like disks rather than like bright points of light, as seen in the real sky. Some modern opto-mechanical instruments do a better job than our 40-year-old Zeiss, but frankly I have yet to see any of them replicate the sky exactly. Therefore, all artificial star fields are somewhat of a compromise.

    Note that the star fields displayed in pre-rendered fulldome shows (ones with canned narration, music, visuals, etcetera) will vary in quality, depending upon the star fields that the producers employed. Those star fields will likely be different, and in some cases not as good, as our real-time-rendered DigitalSky star field used for live programs such as Carolina Skies. Even the DigitalSky stars may not look quite as crisp as the Zeiss, but given all the incredible options that the system has, such as transporting audiences out into the solar system, the galaxy, and the universe using 3D scientific datasets — all things that the Zeiss cannot begin to do — the tradeoff is one that most planetariums / science centers and audience members are willing and enthusiastic to accept.

    Richard McColman

  5. The problem began a few years ago when the leadership direction of the Planetarium and Science Center changed from a Planetarium to a Planetarium and Science Center. The two areas of studies should have never been mixed in my opinion but that is what happens when University’s begin looking at profit statements and asking themselves how to capitalize on a very desirable Franklin Street address.

    While I applaud the Center for looking at ways to serve more people, comparing the Zeiss device to digital HD projection is about like comparing the precision Pipe Organ in Duke Chapel to a full digital electronic organ. To 85% of the people, they hear no difference but to some it’s all the world of difference.

    I do thank you for allowing me to comment.

    Todd Jenkins

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