A recent article in the New York Times Magazine asks who made that planetarium, highlighting the 100-year anniversary of a historically important meeting between Oskar von Miller and Carl Zeiss. Von Miller, founder of the Deutsches Museum in Munich, and Zeiss, an optician and founder of the Carl Zeiss Company, came together to plan for the construction of a large hollow, metal “celestial sphere” for display in the museum. This celestial sphere would have tiny holes drilled in the surface allowing light in to show the positions of stars to those who stood inside. For those who have visited the Adler, this type of sphere probably sounds very familiar as a similar sphere, the Atwood Sphere, was donated to the Adler Planetarium in 1995.
Celestial spheres such as the Atwood Sphere are a beautiful and effective way to create an “artificial sky”; however, this is by no means the only way to bring the sky to the public. In fact, Von Miller and Zeiss envisioned another way of creating an artificial sky 100 years ago this past February. On February 24, 1914, the two scientists came up with the idea of replacing the large spinning sphere with a stationary dome on which stars and planets could be projected from a central lamp. However, World War I delayed the concept, and the first Zeiss projector was not built for another decade.
We are grateful for the role they played in the inception of modern planetariums, and with great appreciation for their work to bring the skies to the public.
You can read the full New York Times Magazine article here.
Written by Gayle Ratliff, a graduate student working on VERITAS research through collaboration between the Adler Planetarium and the Illinois Institute of Technology, where she is currently a Ph.D. candidate.