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OMSI takes to the skies

Planetarium gets a fancy, high-definition projection system

It's a strange world when science is struggling to catch up to Hollywood, but that's exactly what's happening at the Murdock Planetarium at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.

In a whopping $750,000 makeover, the 52-foot dome planetarium, the biggest in the Northwest, has acquired a high-definition video projection system. It's called SkyVision, and it enables the entire dome to be covered with computer-generated and

real images.

The system is so advanced that there are only four like it in the world; the others are in Washington, D.C.; Albuquerque, N.M.; and Houston.

The introductory movie 'Infinity Express' runs for 20 minutes on the six Barco computer-driven cameras. Audiences will see 45,000 frames, requiring an astonishing 1,700 gigabytes of storage in the refrigerator-sized computer system.

During the film, narrated by Laurence Fishburne, viewers will be submerged in a data stream, cruise the moons of Jupiter, scan the Valles Marineris canyon on Mars and watch the Milky Way collide with the galaxy of Andromeda Ñ in about 3 billion years' time.

But even young viewers will sense there's something missing. If you've been to the movies since George Lucas' 'Star Wars' in 1977, you know that the next scene after the setup includes an unbelievably huge spaceship gliding down to the planet's surface, where the real story takes place.

Planetariums must have faced the same situation in the late 1960s, when long-range views of space were suddenly upstaged by pictures of real humans in real spaceships, posing for close-ups on the moon. That was even cooler than what Lucas' Industrial Light & Magic can do today.

But where are those real spaceships now? If anything, that's the question that hangs over this impressive new display.

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