Woman standing in front of a backdrop of the night sky. Words Virtual Planetarium, 360 and 4K are shown.
Deeper Dive Series

Museum Participates in Development of 360 Virtual Reality Planetarium Sky Tour - Watch Now!

Hey everyone Liz Kliemak here, Planetarium Manager at the South Carolina State Museum. Before we get started I do want to mention that this is a 360 video, so at any time feel free to take your mouse and just drag the image around. You can look up, down and all around. Well summer is well underway and that means night after night we can see more and more of the summer evening sky. Now spring is my favorite season, but summer brings my favorite sky. So let's go check out what the sky looks like sometime in mid July around 10 p.m. If we look high up in the southeast, there is a very large triangle in the sky. Now normally I would poke fun at a pattern of stars shaped like a triangle, because it's not very imaginative. Seriously, how many triangles can you make up in the sky? All you need are three stars. There are zillions of them, they're everywhere, but I will concede that this particular triangle is rather special and i'll tell you why. So first of all it's made of three very bright stars: Vega, Deneb and Altair. And so many people notice this specific triangle, that it's been given a name, the summer triangle and it's talked about as if it's an official constellation, when it's actually an example of something called an asterism. You can kind of think of that as an unofficial constellation or a pattern of stars that's just really popular and gets talked about a lot. But each of those stars that I pointed out is part of an official constellation.

So if we start with Vega here. Vega, together with some dim stars next to it forms a little harp called Lyra. Then over here we have Deneb, which is at the tail end of a cross-shaped constellation called Cygnus the swan. Imagine a bird soaring overhead, with its wings spread wide. Now at the other end of the bird, the head of the bird, there's a star that is called Albireo and it's kind of in the center of the triangle and the neat thing about Albireo is it looks like it's one star when it's actually two. There are two stars there orbiting around and around each other in what's called a binary star system. But those stars are so far away that by the time their light reaches us, their light kind of combines and we see it as one star.

Then last but not least we have Altair which is part of Aquila the eagle. So perhaps you can imagine another bird soaring overhead with its wings spread wide but more often than not people tell me they see a stingray or a manta ray. So I have to say I see that now more than anything else. But this is one of my most favorite parts of the sky because I love stars. I love birds and I love making music. And here we have birds and a musical instrument made of stars, so what could be more perfect. Now I can't play the harp but there's no piano or clarinet constellation so I’ll take it. Now if you're lucky enough to have access to really clear dark skies, you might notice a hazy band arching across the sky from horizon to horizon and it just so happens to cut through our giant triangle here such that our swan seems to be soaring over a river of star stuff and that's actually one of the spiral arms of our own galaxy that we live in called the Milky Way and if you're not so lucky and don't have access to really clear dark skies and you want to look for the Milky Way you can actually use the summer triangle as a guide because the Milky Way cuts right through the center of it. So in this way you can use the summer triangle as a kind of landmark in the sky to help you find some other things. Well I hope you enjoyed this tour of a triangle, so to speak, especially in this special format and I hope to see you in person someday at the South Carolina State Museum's Planetarium where we use our digital dome theater to recreate what it's like to be under the night sky and to take you to really cool places to and through the cosmos. At any rate, thank you so much for joining me here today. And as always take care of yourselves and each other and i hope to see you again in some format soon.

The South Carolina State Museum delves into the world of virtual reality by presenting its first ever VR/360 Planetarium Sky Tour presentation in 4K. Thanks to a collaboration with Bentley Ousley, a fulldome producer and member of the Astronomical Society of Kansas City, this video is the result of a project aimed at exploring new immersive ways of sharing the wonders of the night sky with others. While planetarium manager Liz Klimek provided the content and shot the video, Bentley did all the programming and production, in the process designing and building a template and workflow that will be freely shared with the professional planetarium community.

The hope is that other planetarium professionals and astronomy educators will be able to use what he’s provided to facilitate their own forays into the world of VR. As many planetariums remain closed during the pandemic, it’s especially important for these institutions to be able to stay connected with their communities. Being able to custom produce their own VR/360 content would provide them with another powerful tool with which they can engage their audiences far and wide. The State Museum is proud to have been part of such a groundbreaking and beneficial project.

The video was demonstrated at the virtual Western Alliance Conference of Planetariums on July 28th, 2020.

The South Carolina State Museum still offers its full-length 30-min Live Sky program in the 55-foot digital dome BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina Planetarium. While VR is immersive, sitting underneath a planetarium sky is the closest way to naturally simulate being outside under the real sky. However, the more ways there are to explore our universe, the better!