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NCSA helps Chicago’s Adler Planetarium create ‘Deep Space Adventure’

NCSA’s Advanced Visualization Laboratory (AVL) collaborated with the Adler Planetarium and astronomy researchers to take planetarium visitors on an ultra high-definition “Deep Space Adventure” that combines a science fiction narrative with scientifically accurate renderings of planets, stars, and galaxies.

The Adler’s Grainger Sky Theater now projects the largest single seamless digital image in the world with a resolution of more than 8,000-by-8,000 pixels.

In a June 21 interview with The (Chicago) Sun-Times, Adler chief technology officer Doug Roberts said “unless you have been to space, you’ll have the highest quality that’s ever been done before.”

Deep Space Adventure’s premiere show features colliding galaxies, a supernova explosion, and a black hole ripping apart a star. AVL had a hand in all of these dramatic data-driven visualizations.

“The NCSA team is known for combining cinematic flair with scientific accuracy to create inspiring, exciting visualizations,” Roberts said. “They tapped into the power of supercomputers to provide truly cutting-edge images of our universe.”

The AVL team has produced visualizations for planetarium shows in the past, including “Life: A Cosmic Story” for San Francisco’s Morrison Planetarium at the California Academy of Science, “Black Holes: The Other Side of Infinity” with the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, and “IBEX: Search for the Edge of the Solar System” for the Adler Planetarium.

“We have, over the years, accrued a lot of visualization and dome expertise working with other full digital dome systems,” said AVL Director Donna Cox. But “this is the biggest dome resolution yet.”

AVL worked with scientific data provided by scientists from the University of California, Santa Cruz, the California Institute of Technology, Harvard University, and the Adler.

The project relied on software developed by AVL: Amore, a volume renderer for the type of adaptive mesh refinement data typically produced by astronomy/cosmology simulations, and Virtual Director™, a collaborative choreography tool, and Partiview, an interactive visualization viewer. Using Virtual Director™, the Adler and NCSA teams could interactively collaborate. As the NCSA team created virtual flights, the Adler staff could watch the visualizations unfold in real time on their mini dome, providing immediate feedback.

“We had such a blast working remotely together using our virtual tools and treading new territory to help make the show both visually exciting and scientifically accurate,” Cox said.

The Deep Space Adventure Pass includes general admission, “Deep Space Adventure,” an additional show and the Atwood Experience. Adult $28; child (ages 3 to 11) $22. Chicago residents receive a $2 discount on adult admission packages and a $1 discount on child admission packages with proof of residency. Visit for more information.

AVL team members
Donna Cox
Robert Patterson
Stuart Levy
Matthew Hall
Alex Betts
AJ Christensen
Jeff Carpenter

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