Portable Planetarium

The UCSD Division of Physical Sciences has funded a portable planetarium for both undergraduate education and outreach within the broader San Diego community. A planetarium serves as a fantastic facility for interactive scientific visualization. Portable planetaria make use of an inflatable dome that includes an advanced projector. The portable planetarium follows safety regulations, and in case of emergency can easily be flipped by one person for a rapid exit. Our team currently offers a traditional astronomical experience of the night sky and offer pre-arranged visualization programs and full dome movies.

CASS OIR lab maintains and facilitates the use of the portable planetarium for UCSD Physics curricula, and is available for shows for K-12 schools and other outreach events. The UCSD planetarium is currently organized by graduate students Maren Cosens and Lindsay Lowry, and Prof. Shelley Wright.

If you are interested in planetarium show at your institute or K-12 school, please contact planetarium[@]physics.ucsd.edu (remove brackets in the email address).

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How does a portable planetarium work? Our portable planetarium consists of a tent-like dome structure that is connected to a fan and inflated like a bouncy castle. A projector and fish-eye lens is placed at the center of the dome to project images onto the inside surface. The dome is floorless, resting on the building floor and therefore can easily be lifted for quick exits. There is a zipper door on the wall of the dome to enter and exit the planetarium while inflated.

2. How large is the planetarium? The footprint of the dome is ~20ft in diameter and the fan extends a few feet on one side of that. At the center, the dome is ~12ft tall when fully inflated and at minimum an extra foot of clearance is required below any fixtures.

3. What is the planetarium made out of? "Digitalis® Domes are made of Digitalis’ imported Nolux™ fabric. This durable, fire retardant fabric consists of six distinct layers which keep out stray light and enhance digital projection.”

4. What is needed for set-up? The planetarium does need to be set-up indoors, so this requires a large room with at least 13ft of vertical clearance between floor and ceiling (or any hanging fixtures). The room must be at least 25ft across in the smallest dimension and power is needed to run the fan and projector.

5. Can the dome be set-up outdoors? No, the dome is not tied down so it cannot be set-up outdoors due to concerns with wind.

6. How many people can fit in the dome? For our planetarium shows we allow a maximum of 30 adults or 45 children inside the dome at a time.

7. Can the portable planetarium accommodate individuals with accessibility concerns? The planetarium walls simply rest on the building floor and the dome therefore can be lifted at the sides in order to allow wheelchair access. We also have chairs available for individuals who are not able to sit on the floor for an extended period.

8. How much does it cost to have the planetarium at our event? There is currently no charge for portable planetarium shows.

9. How long does it take to set-up the planetarium? We can set-up our portable planetarium in about an hour. This includes the time to inflate the dome and set-up the projection equipment. Take down is a little faster and can be done in just about 30 minutes.

10. How long are the planetarium shows? Planetarium shows can vary in length and material depending on the event and audience. The minimum length per show is 15 minutes to allow enough time to orient the audience and allow them to ask questions. 30 minutes for each show is recommended to allow a wider variety of material to be covered and more interaction with the audience.