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Museum of Science Hosts World Premiere of Original Astronomy Show


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Undiscovered Worlds: The Search Beyond Our Sun at Grand Reopening of Charles Hayden Planetarium February 13, 2011

On February 13, 2011, the Museum of Science, Boston will officially unveil New England’s most technologically advanced digital theater with the world premiere of Undiscovered Worlds: The Search Beyond Our Sun. For the inaugural show of its newly transformed Charles Hayden Planetarium, the Museum explores a timeless question in a now exploding field: Do other planets like Earth exist?

"Twenty years ago, finding planets outside our solar system was science fiction, " says Planetarium show producer, Dani LeBlanc, who led the team creating the Museum’s 30-minute show. But in 1995 scientists discovered 51 Pegasi, the first planet orbiting a star like our Sun. By the end of 2010 scientists knew of over 500 of these so-called "exoplanets." NASA’s historic announcement in early February that its Kepler telescope had discovered 1, 235 planet candidates now means the number of confirmed exoplanets could more than double.

In telling this extraordinary story, the Museum showcases the amazing capabilities of its state-of-the-art Zeiss Starmaster, DigitalSky 2 software, Sony projection system, and talented Planetarium educators, animators, and technical experts. Navigating a universe modeled on the latest scientific data, Undiscovered Worlds takes audiences to these exotic planets with stunningly rendered animation and lush orchestral music, exploiting the full dome’s immersive environment. The mission: To investigate how these strange worlds are changing the way we understand planets and solar systems.

With input from distinguished physicist-novelist Alan Lightman and leading exoplanet researchers from MIT and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, such as David Charbonneau and Lisa Kaltenegger, this spectacular show captures the excitement of the rapidly unfolding search for planets outside our solar system and invites audiences to join the hunt. Zooming away from our solar system, Undiscovered Worlds explores the difficulties of finding these new worlds, especially Earth-like ones, and some of the astounding first discoveries, including many of the most extreme exoplanets. In one example, the audience will chase and then soar over a sensational visualization of the rocky surface of Corot 7b, a seething lava planet that orbits its star in just 20 Earth hours.

Viewers also learn about the surprisingly intuitive methods of exoplanet discovery, the “star wobble” and transit “light curve” methods. Both were used to find the exoplanet HD 209458b, and the audience can glimpse an artistic rendering of this massive planet, the first ever observed passing in front of its parent star. As Charbonneau says in the show, "We already had a hint that this star hosted a planet." But this was the first one whose orbit would bring it in front of its star, enabling the team to observe a transit. They now could measure an exoplanet’s size. With a planet’s size and mass, scientists could also calculate density, pointing possibly to a planet’s composition. Undiscovered Worlds flies audiences around Gliese 581, a four-planet solar system 20 light years away, to encounter a planet discovered in 2010 that could be one of the first potentially habitable exoplanets.

"Today, we’re on the brink of finding out if planets like ours are rare or common and what that means for understanding our place in the universe, " LeBlanc says. "Either discovery is significant, and potentially revolutionary. If the Earth is unique, that’s another important reason for taking good care of it. If there are billions of planets like ours, that’s absolutely mind-blowing."

Charbonneau tells the audience, “For thousands of years humans have wondered whether there was life beyond the solar system. For the first time in human history we have the technological capability to answer that question." By following NASA’s Kepler mission and others focused on finding Earth-sized planets, Undiscovered Worlds takes viewers closer than ever to those answers.

Says LeBlanc, "We hope that audiences will leave the Museum full of wonder and an enlightened sense of their place in the universe."


The Museum celebrates the 52-year history of New England’s first major planetarium by unveiling an entirely new kind of cultural venue — the most technologically advanced digital theater in New England. The yearlong $9 million renovation was funded through the Charles Hayden Foundation and private donations, with significant support from Suffolk Construction’s Red & Blue Foundation, the Honorable Nonnie S. Burnes and Richard M. Burnes Jr., the Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund, and the Highland Street Foundation.

Powered by superior full-dome video and audio systems, Sky-Skan’s DigitalSky 2 software, and a new state-of-the-art Zeiss Starmaster projector, the renovated Planetarium will introduce a new generation of educational programming and arts and entertainment experiences. This spring, the Museum launches Night Lights, an evening entertainment series that will feature live performances under the star-filled dome and the next generation of laser shows. A schedule of events is available at


The physical transformation includes the installation of new and more powerful technologies, as well as enhanced visitor amenities:

  • The Planetarium’s centerpiece is its state-of-the-art Zeiss Starmaster, one of only two in the United States, and the only one on the East Coast. This custom-built optics system recreates a stunningly realistic night sky, its fiber optics enhancing the size and infinitely adjustable brightness of up to 9, 100 stars. For the first time, a new scintillation device generates star flickering as natural as the real thing. In another first, the Starmaster can go forward and back 10, 000 years in seconds via computer-controlled independent planet projectors. Unlike the old two-ton Zeiss Mark VI, the new rotating star simulator is elegantly compact, standing eight and a half feet tall, its lens-covered starball 30 inches in diameter.
  • The Sky-Skan Definiti System powered by DigitalSky 2 software and Sony SXRD 4K Digital Video Projectors (4K is pixel resolution) and an extensive sky database enable creation of spectacular original programming. The new projection and animation technology not only can simulate space travel, but also could explore global climate change. In addition, using an online databank, Planetarium staff can import and display proteins including DNA strands, while an earth and climate database could show the jet stream or volcanic activity.
  • Planetaria traditionally simulate the 3-dimensional sky from any location on Earth in the past or future, accurately reproducing apparent motions and cycles of the sky in time-lapse fashion. But the new DigitalSky 2 software enables Planetarium visitors to peer back at Earth as only astronauts have, then fly out of the Milky Way past other galaxies, immersed in views of anywhere in the known universe modeled on the latest scientific data from satellites and observatories. The Planetarium can also show visually difficult concepts like phases of the moon and how eclipses work as viewed from space.
  • Museum educators, poised at the 10-foot-wide control console — banks of knobs and faders, keyboards and monitors at their fingertips — orchestrate the entire experience, using the DigitalSky 2 software, making the Starmaster turn and spin, and adjusting lights, audio, and spotlights.
  • With powerful new full-dome video and audio systems, concentric seating for 209 people, and 40 removable seats, the theater offers a transformative venue for musical performances, live theater, and other evening entertainment, as well as audience interactivity and intimacy.
  • Enhanced visitor amenities include advanced climate control and custom seats angled to give visitors the sensation of takeoff with optimal views and comfort.

Show Credits


Music composed by: Three-time Emmy nominee Sheldon Mirowitz

Recorded at: Fraser Performance Center, WGBH Boston

Narrated by: Actress, director, and playwright Debra Wise, CoDirector, Catalyst Collaborative@MIT Science Theater Project

Co-written by: Alan Lightman, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the staff of the Charles Hayden Planetarium, Museum of Science, Boston

Planetarium Director: David Rabkin

Planetarium Show Producer: Danielle Khoury LeBlanc

Lead Animator: Charles Wilcox

Animators: Heather Fairweather; Jason Fletcher; Wade Sylvester

Technical Coordinator: Darryl Davis

Soundtrack Engineer: R. Berred Ouellette

Scientific Advisors:

Dr. David Charbonneau, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

Dr. Lisa Kaltenegger, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

Dr. Sara Seager, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Dr. Richard Binzel, Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Narrator: Actor Will Lyman, best known as the voice of the PBS series FRONTLINE

Music composed and arranged by: Tom Phillips and Tom Martin, OBT Music, composers of award-winning scores for PBS, Discovery Channel, ABC, NBC

Produced by: The staff of the Charles Hayden Planetarium, Museum of Science, Boston

Tickets: $10 for adults; $9 for seniors; $8 for children ages 3 – 11. Planetarium show schedules and details are available on For more information, the public can call 617/723-2500, (TTY) 617/589-0417, or visit

About the Museum of Science, Boston

The Museum takes a hands-on approach to science, engineering and technology, attracting about 1.5 million visitors a year via its programs and 700 interactive exhibits. Founded in 1830, the Museum was first to embrace all the sciences under one roof. Highlights include the Thomson Theater of Electricity, Charles Hayden Planetarium, Mugar Omni Theater, Gordon Current Science & Technology Center, 3-D Digital Cinema and Butterfly Garden. Reaching 25, 000 teens a year worldwide via the Intel Computer Clubhouse Network, the Museum also leads a 10-year, $41 million National Science Foundation-funded Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network of science museums. The Museum’s “Science Is an Activity” exhibit plan has been awarded many NSF grants and influenced science centers worldwide. Its National Center for Technological Literacy® aims to enhance knowledge of engineering and technology for people of all ages and inspire the next generation of engineers, inventors, and scientists. The Museum is ranked #3 by Parents Magazine in its list of the country’s “Ten Best Science Centers." Visit

Images@ copyright Museum of Science Boston

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