Armagh Goes Digital
Armagh Goes Digital
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The Armagh Planetarium popularises not only astronomy but also general scientific and technological knowledge for all levels of society.

Planetariums have come a long way since they first appeared in the 1920s.  The dream equipment then was the electromechanical star projectors brought to their developmental zenith by the famous Zeiss optical company in Germany.  Today Zeiss still makes some of the best optical star projectors systems in the world with wonderfully sharp stars.

Armagh Planetarium’s hemispherical domed ceiling was formerly divided into sectors where videos were shown, slides were projected either as individual images or collectively as precisely registered all skies: and on top of this the stars were added in.  All of these systems, including the theatre sound tracks were computer controlled: they required a lot of time-consuming maintenance to keep running in  good operational order.  The 35 mm slide projectors were very noisy and all of the incandescent bulbs leaked light and generated lots of heat. 

Armagh went partly digital when we sold our Minolta-Viewlex star projector and bought our first Digistar II system in 1995.  This was the start of our journey into this exciting new way to present information to our visitors.  The D2 projected its star field through a fisheye leans using a high voltage cathode ray tube, and the stars and other images were greenish, rather like the early computer screens when word processors became popular. 

Image of the world's first successful planetarium video projection system at Armagh
 

Theatre Manager programming Digistar3
Programming Digistar 3
 

Our current projector is a Digistar 5 which was installed in 2013.  When we first used it we thought it was a presenter’s dream.  The system was fully integrated and all of it was controlled from a single console computer, the sound and images were in synch, and the system also came complete with all of the software and hardware that was needed to start making longer shows and shorts in house.  We still think it is the greatest thing since sliced bread, and tell our visitors that the only limiting factor with the Digistar is your imagination.  If you can imagine something in your mind’s eye, you ought to be able to translate it through the Digistar onto the Planetarium theatre ceiling.

The Digistar 5 computers are kept in an air conditioned space, where the temperature is carefully maintained at 21°C  to keep the electronics cool.  The audio, host and graphics processors all work together to generate a full dome image, where the images thrown on to the ceiling by our Sony projectors are seamlessly feathered together, giving a true full dome experience.  Our young visitors are stunned by the experience.  It can generate flights through the stars, so that you can come up close to supernovae, and then simulate the huge explosions that occur as stars die.