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'Immersive' largest screen in Virginia celebrating 40 years had world's 1st digital planetarium projector

The Dome at Science Museum of Virginia celebrates 40 years with Earth Day celebration
Dome 40th 1 .jpg
Posted at 9:02 PM, Apr 22, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-23 11:39:31-04

RICHMOND, Va. – The Science Museum of Virginia heralded the 40th anniversary of the first show at The Dome, the museum's planetarium, on Earth Day.

To celebrate, shows in The Dome, which is the largest screen in the Commonwealth, were free during the museum’s Earth Day celebrations.

At one time, guests viewed IMAX movies on the screen, but technology has now changed to digital.

“When The Dome first opened as the Universe Planetarium, we had the first digital planetarium projector in the world. It’s actually a vendor we're still working with,” Justin Bartel explained. “It used to be very simple computer graphics with just dots and lines that we could move around. Now it's a fully immersive 3D environment.”

This fall, The Dome will also receive a major technology upgrade. The upgrade will reduce the number of computers needed to operate the system from 21 to just six computers.

Since the Dome opened on April 22, 1983, the facility has hosted thousands of screenings and welcomed millions of visitors.

RELATED: The Dome at the Science Museum of Virginia is celebrating its 40th birthday — and so is its astronomer

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The Dome at the Science Museum of Virginia

Here’s a brief timeline on the history of The Dome:

October 12, 1980 – “Space breaking” for new wing at Science Museum of Virginia featuring a planetarium and space theater called The Universe. First addition to the museum since 1977. State and local lawmakers attended the event in addition to Kermit Eller who played Darth Vader.

March 16, 1982 – Two large cranes lifted the 25,000-pound Dome frame onto the planetarium base. The opening weekend film was called “Genesis,” a Geology-oriented film about the origins of Earth.

July 19, 1989 - NASA Astronaut Buzz Aldrin spoke at an event launching an exhibit titled “To the Moon” located inside The Universe planetarium & space theater.

2003 - The planetarium was renamed Ethyl IMAX™ DOME

March 2014 - The Dome reopens with upgraded state-of-the-art digital full dome projection system and new NanoSeam™ screen. A $2.2 million renovation unveils Digistar 5 system with 3D capability and no longer an IMAX theater

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