We can’t all be starship captains. But visitors to Planetarium No. 1 in St. Petersburg, Russia, can experience the universe with a level of clarity, detail and interactivity that Captain Kirk himself would envy.
Housed in a 19th century natural gas storage building, the planetarium’s exterior is about the only thing that isn’t on the cutting edge of modernity. Inside is the world’s largest planetarium, with a half acre (2,000 square meters) of projection area within a 37-meter diameter dome.
It’s the planet’s only large-size planetarium with a dome that partially touches the floor. This expansive viewing angle makes it possible for visitors to take photos of themselves with space in the background.
And thanks to NVIDIA Quadro graphics, it’s also the world’s highest resolution planetarium, able to display interactive images of space in a whopping 10K resolution — more than 2.5x the detail level of conventional digital cinema screens.
A few months after its official opening in November, Planetarium No. 1 flipped the switch on its record-breaking projection system. It uses NVIDIA Quadro P6000 GPUs, which have become the de facto industry standard for building high-res, multiple-projector systems. Each Quadro P6000 has four outputs creating 4K images, which are then synchronized across 40 high-resolution projectors from one server.
Each projector is responsible for a section of the overall image, which must be blended seamlessly together, in a process known as image stitching.
“Creating such a large and detailed projection was an incredible technical challenge,” said Evgeny Gudov, director at Planetarium No. 1. “Using the NVIDIA Quadro platform was the only way to achieve it.”
The previous record holder, for both image stitching and dome size, is the 35m planetarium in the Nagoya Science Museum in Japan, which combines 24 projectors.
Command the Stars
Visitors — up to 5,000 of them every day — can control the starry sky above them using multi-touch controllers, enabling them to pilot through space. When it’s not roaming the galaxy, Planetarium No. 1 hosts 360-degree broadcasts of concerts and sporting events.
It’s also a resource for scientific and educational projects, enabling star-gazers to study the skies above St. Petersburg even during overcast conditions, and despite urban light pollution.
“Because we’re projecting onto a dome, we need to use 3D mapping techniques to make the images look seamless,” said Gudov. “And with so many visitors, the reliability of the technology was also vital.”
Planetarium No. 1’s most popular offering is a specially created 90-minute show that takes visitors from the birth of the universe right through to the space age.