John Pazmino
 2005 October 9 
    The Hayden Planetarium in New York opened on 3 October 1935. 2005 
is its 70th anniversary. The Planetarium held a birthday celebration 
on the lower exhibit floor on Sunday 2 October 2005, starting at 2PM. 
The party was free with the Museum admission. 
    I and about a hundred and fifty others assembled in the Hall of 
the Universe in rows of folding chairs. Dr Neil Tyson, Planetarium 
director, narrated a slide show about the old and new Planetarium, 
told anecdotes, and fielded questions from the audience. The slides 
were displayed on the 'bulletin board' screen and mobile flat screens. 
After a bit of initial tinkering with the equipment, the show went 
along smoothly. 
    I keep here to the topics covered by Tyson, but add here and there 
details to fill out or explain the commentary. 
First Zeiss planetaria 
    The Carl Zeiss company, Jena, Germany, invented the projection 
planetarium in about 1923, It, model Mark I, was a limited device that 
showed the northern skies over a small range of latitude suitable for 
Europe. It had one starglobe and the planets were in a cage beneath 
it. Tyson described it as a milking machine for cows. Only one 
remains, in Munich's science museum, in a neglected corner of the 
    The quantum step forward from the previous efforts to display the 
night sky was the mechanism to animate the planets. No other device 
tried this competently. Zeiss built a cunning set of gears, lamps, 
plates, shafts that moved the planets along the zodiac in replication 
of their celestial gyrations. Hence, the name 'planetarium' was far 
more appropriate than, say, 'stellarium'. In time the name applied to 
the entire enclosing building, not just the projector. 
    That machine was opened to the public in a temporary dome atop the 
museum. A second specimen was sold to The Hague, where it, too, was 
mounted in a rooftop dome. That one was destroyed by fire in the mid 
1970s, the only Zeiss planetarium suffering a peacetime disaster. 
    Charles Hayden, a philanthropist, visited Germany to inspect the 
planetarium with the idea to bring one to New York. He discussed the 
scheme with the American Museum of Natural History's department of 
astronomy. The core of the Museum would house the department's all new 
exhibition hall with the projector displaying the sky on a dome 
capping it. There would be no theater; visitors would walk thru the 
exhibits and look up at the artificial sky.
    This scheme was never since attempted by any other planetarium in 
the world. I myself have the pet theory that it was inspired by none 
other than the Sky Ceiling at Grand Central. Museum officials arrived 
to work thru the rail terminal. As they scurried to the subway or 
taxis, they saw the starry vault over them. 
    This space is now the leFrak Theater. I never learned if the 
theater was salvaged from the planetarium 'atrium' plan, was never 
altered for it, or was added later after the atrium was abandoned. 
Mark II machine 
    In 1926 Zeiss improved the machine to show the sky from anywhere 
on Earth by adding a second starglobe and putting the planets between 
them. With more room for the planet guts, lunar and solar eclipses, 
Moon phases, planet discs could be included in the celestial 
simulation. This arrangement gave the machine the classical dumbbell 
shape that would endure in later models into the late 20th century. A 
couple dozen Mark IIs were set up around the world thru the eve of 
World War II. 
    This model was bigger and heavier than the Mark I. It could not 
fit into the atrium scheme. Clyde Fisher and team of the Museum 
travelled to Europe to inspect the growing number of Mark II 
installations to review how to develop a planetarium for New York, His 
team concluded that a theater edifice, modeled on those in Europe, was 
the best method of housing the Mark II machine. 
Building the Hayden 
   The Hayden Planetarium was fitted into the northeast well in the 
quadrant ground plan of the American Museum of Natural History. It was 
meant to eventually be an interior room, hidden by an outer flank of 
Museum halls along 81st Street. As such, the Planetarium was plain, 
tho Art Deco, in decor. 
    The old Planetarium would be the last separate structure built on 
the Museum campus until it was replaced by the new Planetarium. The 
campus did undergo major renovations over the decades, including a 
small new wing of the Planetarium for a Hall of the Sun in the 1970s. 
    The dome was an engineering marvel of the 1930s for being the 
first substantial application of Gunnite. This is a method of placing 
concrete into irregular forms, domed in this case, by pumping it from 
hoses. This allows the concrete to flow onto the curved dome and 
around the rebars. For a couple decades this was the largest 
reenforced concrete dome in the world. To Tyson's credit, he did say 
'concrete', not 'cement'. 
    Hayden was unique in having a double deck theater. On the first 
floor was the Copernican Hall with a ceiling model of the classical 
planets of the solar system. The distance scale was severely 
compressed but time was accurately simulated. The planets and their 
satellites moved in their proper, speeded up, periods. A short 
introduction for the main show was given here, then the audience went 
upstairs to the domed Theater of the Stars. 
    To finance the construction, a separate Hayden Planetarium 
Authority, separate from the Museum, was established. It issued bonds 
to supplement the Charles Hayden donation. On paper this authority was 
a distinct organization from the Museum, but it quickly became 
congruent, with Its officers and directors the same as the Museum's. 
    The edifice itself was also separate from the Museum with only 
small entrances to it from within the Museum. The main entrance 
fronted 81st Street, reached by a curved drive and walk. After paying 
the Planetarium's admission, by entering from 81st Street, visitors 
could walk into the Museum with no additional fee. On the other hand, 
Museum visitors, after paying admission thru one of the Museum's own 
gates, had to pay a new fee to enter the Planetarium. 
New York is not the first
    The Hayden Planetarium opened in 1935, after the facilities in 
Chicago, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. Pittsburgh came along in 
1939, the final Zeiss planetarium before World War II. Chicago, 
Los Angeles, and Hayden were in independent embellished monumental 
structures. Philadelphia and Pittsburgh built their planetaria in 
rooms of existing museums. These five are the 'charter' Zeiss 
facilities in America. 
    All five planetaria are in operation today, with renovations and 
upgrades. These inculded new halls, services. utilities, projectors. 
Four still have Zeiss machines. Pittsburgh now runs a nonZZeiss 
    Installation of Zeiss projectors was interrupted by World War II, 
to resume in the mid 1950s. A sixth Zeiss projector was set up at the 
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, in 1949. It was purchased 
from the planetarium of Stockholm, Swweden. 
Hayden is numero uno 
    All the American charter planetaria were sumptuously endowed with 
equipment, furniture, supplies, rooms, crew. Yet it was the Hayden 
Planetarium that instantly rose to supremacy among them. The prime 
reason, Neil explained, was that Hayden was integral with the Museum's 
astronomy department with its academic and educational staff. 
    Philadelphia and Pittsburgh could have enjoyed similar alliance 
thru their museums, but for some reason they didn't. Chicago and Los 
Angeles had ties with local universities, but for some reason they 
never shared the rank of Hayden. 
    Another factor was the drop-dead magazine issued as the 'bulletin' 
of the Hayden Planetarium', the Sky. It outclassed other astronomy 
magazines for the public with clean crisp typography and graphics. 
Anyone could subscribe to it, even tho remote from the City. Besides 
promoting Hayden it carried solid news and stories on astronomy. 
    With hardships of the Depression bearing down, the Sky was sold to 
its editor, Charles Federer, who combined it with a Boston magazine, 
the Telescope. The united magazine is today's Sky and Telescope. Thru 
the 1980s it preserved the Sky's racing script in its combined title. 
Hayden in space
    The Planetarium was favored for presenting the dawning era of 
space travel. In the 1950s it presented shows on space, based on 
authoritative designs from the US Air Force and aviation companies. It 
had the first publicly accessible real rocket, a cutaway Viking 
missile on the first floor. 
    It sold at its bookshop souvenir tickets for seats on the first 
passenger rocket to the Moon and square inch plots of land on the 
Moon. Of course, these were not real, just gags. Once in a while Neil 
gets a letter asking about them. A person went thru his grandparent's 
papers and found the land booklet or rocket ticket. Can it be 
redeemed? No. 
    The space theme continued into the 1960s with human spaceflight and 
Apollo project. Since then it covered major space shots, like the 
landing of Huygens in January 2005 and the launch and landing of Space 
Shuttle Discovery in August and September 2005. 
Education at Hayden
    Most planetaria offer classes, if they had the rooms and services, 
in astronomy. Few carried out this mission as consistently with the 
academic caliber as Hayden. Its astronomers were expected to interact 
with the public thru their astronomy classes, not just talk at them. 
    Hayden supported its staff as authors of books and articles. Neil 
didn't mention, but I recall from a prior convo with him that Hayden 
authors published some 300 books! 
    Hayden, alone of the world's planetaria, had casual entree' to the 
news media capital of the planet, New York. It was the setting for 
many astronomy and space news broadcasts, source of news articles and 
announcements, press conferences. 
    Hayden is also unique in being immersed in the world's most 
educated and wisely people. During the Q&A, the children (and a couple 
adults) asked interesting mature questions! None were schoolish or 
childish, not even from obvious grade-schoolers. To satisfy these 
people, Hayden just had to elevate its educational resources. 
The world changes 
    Starting in the 1970s with the maturation of space-based 
astronomy, the cosmic view took in concepts and objects never imagined 
when Zeiss built their projectors. Galaxies, bigbang, extrasolar 
planets, spacetime warping, supernovae, even the very nature of stars 
were not or poorly known before the 1960s. The prewar planetarium was 
getting obsolete in as much as the projector could only show the naked 
eye sky from Earth. 
    In the early 1990s the Museum explored schemes for refurbishing 
the Hayden structure for updated exhibits, better projection systems, 
more electronic and computer services. It found that while the civil 
works of the building were rock solid, built by Robert Moses crew, the 
services and utilities and layout were too far gone. 
    Hayden, and other planetaria, installed peripheral projectors to 
simulate voyages beyond Earth. These were stopgaps due to expense and 
technical limitations. Making the slides, models, props was a tedious 
costly chore for each show. 
    The halls of the Planetarium were too narrow and confined for large 
exhibits. There were interfering columns and walls. Eventually, one 
Museum trustee, Fred Rose and his wife Sandra, donated seed money for 
an completely new facility, to be part of a larger Rose Center for 
Earth and Space. 
The Rose Center
    The Rose Center consists of four sections: Hall of the Universe, 
Hayden Planetarium, Hall of Planet Earth, and Hall of Biodiversity. 
The latter two are so different in design and decor that most visitors 
treat them as unrelated wings of the Museum. In fact, they are 
overhauled spaces within the existing Museum buildings. 
    The Hayden Planetarium is housed in a 27m diameter sphere, the 
Hayden Sphere, hovering above the Hall of the Universe. From the 
street the edifice is a solid sphere suspended, by three cleverly 
disguised pylons, in a glass cube. The back of the building is 
integral with the rest of the Museum, so visitors can pass from the 
one to the other with no additional fee. Only the very skyshow carries 
a separate admission. 
    The Hall of the Universe has open floor for large gatherings, like 
the birthday party. It is the venue for the Planetarium's 'Starry 
night' free public jazz shows and is hired out for private or 
commercial events. In normal use, it is a crossroads for visitors 
entering and leaving the Museum thru the 81st Street gate. However, by 
roll gates, this hall can be closed off from the Museum for special or 
after-hours functions. 
    The Hall and Planetarium -- the two are routinely assimilated into 
just 'Planetarium' -- occupy the footprint of the demolished old 
Planetarium. The plans call for never ever enclosing it with halls 
along 81st Street, so the north flank of the Museum is now complete. 
Other peripheral improvements include a formal entrance on Columbus Av 
(reopened in summer 2005 after closure for World Trade Center), 
enclosed parking garage, terrace, restaurant, and new Museum exhibit 
floor space. 
    During construction, the Willamette meteorite, one major specimen 
for the Hall of the Universe, was seated on its bedrock pillar while 
the foundation floor ws shaped out. Then the rest of the building was 
built around it. The iron weighs 15 tons, the largest meteorite 
recovered in the United States. A similar technique was used for the 
WIllamette, and Anighito, in the original building. After the first 
floor was finished, before the enclosing walls went up, these were set 
on their bases. 
New projector 
    There was no contest here. Only a Zeiss machine belonged in New 
York. Since World War II other firms make planetarium projectors, like 
Goto and Minolta, but these were unsuitable for the new Hayden 
Planetarium. The new machine is the Mark VIII, already in production. 
Hayden asked for several modifications, like more stars and a more 
'urban' set of deep sky objects, tighter pinpoint images, easier to 
use control console. Zeiss added these to the extent of turning the 
machine into a full model higher, the mark IX. This is the projector 
now offered to other planetaria. 
    The old projectors, thru the Mark VI, the final one Hayden had, 
were electromechanical. The movements of the stars and planets were 
locked in place by gears and shafts. The diurnal, annual (planetary), 
and precession were ganged together so that changing one adjusted all 
of them in synchronism. 
    Given a set of initial parameters for the start of a planetarium 
show, the projector had to be run at top speed to eventually arrive at 
these parameter values. At the end of the show the projector sat with 
a final parameter set. To begin the next show, the projector had to be 
'rewound' at top speed to recover the initial settings. It is a 
glorious tribute to the engineering and construction of the Carl Zeiss 
company that the machine could take such punishing stress! 
    An extreme example was the Christmas show when the projector 
reproduced the sky near Jerusalem some 2,000 years ago. The runback 
from, say, 1995 (the last year of the old Planetarium) took many 
hours. Because the projector was used for astronomy classes, special 
shows, and in-house experiments, it could not be set and left at year 
4 BC (or which ever the going date of Christ's birth was). 
    The Mark VIII, and now IX, is fully electronic. The settings are 
made directly from a one value to the next. Thus, the projector can 
show the sky for different epochs within the same show with a few 
seconds for the shift. They can be linked, like the mechanical Zeiss, 
or freely altered for particular purposes. 
    The stars are sharp enough to appreciate with small binoculars! 
Tyson invited visitors to bring binoculars to the show and see for 
themselfs. Focus the instrument for 10 to 20 meters, not infinity. 
It's digital, baby!
    As wonderful as the Zeiss projector is, it still is limited to 
views of the heavens from the solar system. With the modern nature of 
astronomy and space, the Zeiss is supplemented by seven massive RGB 
video projectors driven by supercomputers. The main facility is at the 
University of California at San Diego. The shows are built there, and 
at auxiliary supercomputers around the country, then squirted to 
Hayden for presentation. 
    The images on the dome, the world's largest video screen, are a 
mix of Zeiss optical and supercomputer video projection. By feeding 
the computers with databases of celestial bodies and properties, 
Hayden can display the world's most accurate and current imagery in 
and around galaxies, nebulae, superclusters. 
    Hayden elaborates on its digital facilities in its 'Virtual 
universe' show. This started as a single suite of four lectures and 
demonstrations, then was enlarged to a regular monthly offering. 
The next show
    Dr Tyson wrapped up the birthday show with clips from the new 
skyshow, now in the works for release in a couple months. No specific 
date, but likely in January 2006. It, 'Cosmic collisions', explores 
the actions and results of collisions in the universe, from meteorites 
to those between galaxies. He showed video simulations of what may 
happen if (he did say 'when') the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies 
collide. The two orbs mesh, rebound, strike again and again. Stars and 
dust are scattered far and wide. Perhaps our Sun and solar system will 
be tossed from its home galaxy to become a vagrant between galaxies? 
    Hayden since its reopening in 2000 had only two skyshows. 
'Passport to the universe' and 'The search for life'. There is some 
grousing that the shows run for too long, to the point of dissuading 
repeat visitors. In fairness, the shows may not truly be the same over 
time. They can be updated by spot editing, while the narration is 
carefully kept general. 
    An other factor is the cost of building a show, several millions 
of dollars each! The shows are peculiar to Hayden; no other 
planetarium can avail of them. There is no market to spread the cost 
thru. Contrast this to the several hundred dollar price of a 
commercial show from, for instance, Loch Ness. 
    A third show at Hayden is 'Cosmic visions'. This is an 
entertaining sound-&-light show using the video projection facilities. 
No hard science here, just a fantasy ride thru mathematicly generated 
patterns and music. Some call it son-of-Laserium but it is far more 
mature and survivable than that 1970s cretin-beater. 
    Tyson explained the flap about Pluto. When the new edifice opened, 
there was no specific exhibit for Pluto as the ninth planet. In the 
late 1990s there was a movement among some astronomers to deplanetize 
Pluto to just an other Kuiper belt resident. Asteroid number 10,000 
was held back to assign to Pluto after asteroid #9,999 was catalogued. 
    The effort failed and Pluto is grandfathered as a planet. Number 
10,000 went to an ordinary asteroid. However, other masses, smaller 
(so far!) than Pluto, were discovered in the far reaches of the solar 
system. They seem to be large iceballs with no traditional planet 
properties in them. They are more like huge comet nuclei. 
    When the Planetarium reopened, its exhibits reflected this 
transition in the notion of 'planet'. It was not an arbitrary move by 
Hayden -- or personally by Tyson -- to remove Pluto from the ranks of 
the planets. Because Hayden is the premiere planetarium of Earth, 
every one complained to Dr Tyson! Even the New York Times had 
editorials sticking up for Pluto! 
    Gy and by the tempest died out, altho Neil still gets 'hate' mail 
from school kids about the Pluto deplanetization. 
All out!
    Neil gave a whirlwind history, not a blow-by-blow recounting. It 
lasted about an hour. He left out many aspects of Hayden's story, each 
of which would be a thick chapter in a comprehensive chronicle. What 
he did show was plenty, as commented on here, leaving the audience 
quite impressed and thrilled.  
    Following the presentation, Dr Tyson sat for a book signing, 
chatted, and sent the guests for slices of a large birthday cake. I 
met up with several social friends. After the birthday party, we went 
to the IMAX movie in the Museum 'The deep sea' and then for bunch.