Glaxo gives $1.5M to Morehead Planetarium

Posted January 26, 2010 2:33 p.m. EST

— Drug maker GlaxoSmithKline has given $1.5 million to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to convert the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center's historic Star Theater from analog to fulldome digital video technology, officials said Tuesday.

In recognition of the gift, the theater will be renamed the GlaxoSmithKline Fulldome Theater.

"GlaxoSmithKline is committed to making positive contributions to the communities where employees live and work and to invest in health and education programs," Janice Whitaker, GSK senior vice president for quality, global manufacturing and supply, said in a statement. "We hope this gift will help a historic science resource continue to develop and fuel a love of science and the stars in millions more visitors."

The fulldome digital video technology is a world-class projection system that puts Morehead in the same class as the National Museum of Air and Space, the American Museum of Natural History and the Griffith Observatory, officials said.

"This is truly our next giant leap," planetarium director Todd Boyette said in a statement. "We're grateful to GlaxoSmithKline for making this possible."

Morehead visitors will experience the new technology through super-high-definition picture resolution, a digital surround sound system and reconfigured seating for better sight lines, officials said.

Because the technology is a standard format that many planetariums share, Morehead can now lease shows from other planetariums to expand its offerings, officials said. The spring schedule includes the planetarium shows "Astronaut" from the National Space Centre in England and "Black Holes: Journey into the Unknown" from Museum Victoria in Australia.

Morehead can also enhance its revenue by leasing its own shows to other planetariums. A new version of Morehead's popular "Earth, Moon and Sun" show, recreated for fulldome digital video, has already been leased to four planetariums in the U.S. and is under consideration for lease by planetariums in Brazil and Hong Kong.

The Morehead theater has been closed during January to install the new video system, and it will reopen Feb. 5 as the largest fulldome installation in the southeastern United States. Officials said they expect more than 160,000 visitors, including nearly 85,000 schoolchildren, during the next year.