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" The exhibit's Stellarium can inspire the peaceful, but gripping, awe of the universe that opens thought... ."

Review of “Where Next Columbus?” The Christian Science Monitor, January 4, 1993, by Clara Germani

Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, 1992 - 2002

Santa Barbara





New Jersey



Stellarium exhibit floor planThis is the most widely known Stellarium ever built because the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum is the most popular tourist destination in Washington, DC.  It was built for the “Where Next, Columbus?” exhibit.

The exhibit was originally intended for a three year run.  It ran for ten years. It was very popular.

The eight foot diameter Stellarium is a second generation unit.  It has 715 stars surrounding the sun out to a distance of 50 light years.  It is the most complex Stellarium ever displayed. The stars are independently lit by spectral type, and have the capacity to be sequentially illuminated by distance from the sun.  The visitor would first see the sun at the center then the map would seem to grow around it. There were several other special features.

Although “Where Next Columbus?” has closed the museum was reluctant to simply discard the map.  According to Dr. Valerie Neal, Curator of Space History, “We still love our Stellarium.”  An effort is under way to save the map.  It has been given to a new facility in Deleware.  It will be a challenging task. The Stellarium was not designed to be transported and Susan and I were unable to lend hands on assistance at the time of the move.

Below: Installation of the map in 1992. Note the cutout in the light baffle wall on the right.  It held a backlit Milky Way portrait by Emmy Award winning space artist Jon Lomberg.  The portrait faced outward and served as a Stellarium introduction. Research by the museums astrophysics department gave the renowned artist the basis for the most accurate portrait possible. It also gave the first evidence that our galaxy is a barred spiral.

Right: A flash photo of the finished map. Note the white line behind the lower part of the case;  It helped visitors to see where the black wall and floor met in the dark room. A few bright stars are visible over the glare of the flash thanks to several auxiliary light sources.