The Bigger Picture: Starry Night in the Rotunda

November 28, 2022 By Anne E. Bromley, Anne E. Bromley,

The Rotunda Dome over the weekend became the planetarium that University of Virginia founder Thomas Jefferson envisioned in his early plans, but never realized. It took modern digital technology to create the centuries-old night sky that visitors viewed in a special open house, while they enjoyed refreshments and classical music.

In 2019, a trio of UVA doctoral students, now graduated from the English department, found Jefferson’s comments and sketch for his Dome Room planetarium during research on his original Rotunda library. They wanted to create something similar. The students used small, networked computers mounted on handmade platforms and a graphic design program to run digital images via five projectors. The constellation images, from a late 17th-century star atlas, depict Andromeda and Cassiopeia, Pegasus, Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, which we now call the Big Dipper and Little Dipper.

More public nights will be planned in the spring.

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Anne E. Bromley

University News Associate Office of University Communications