Dome theaters are traditionally regarded as planetariums – immersive spaces that simulate the sky above us – and so lend themselves well to astronomy exploration. 

Today’s dome theater is used for astronomy, and so much more. Ian Dyer, our International Commercial Manager, explains how domes and immersive experiences are increasingly being used for data visualization, and discusses what this means for the many forms of data available:

What is Data Visualization in the Dome?

“Data Visualization in the dome is essentially large-scale data interpreted in graphical form, that isn’t necessarily astronomy or cosmology related, projected onto a dome screen.

It could be for higher education, research, or simulation development – or it could be for public education, or informal learning purposes.

To understand highly complex subjects with a presenter or a narrator enables the audience to dissect and understand the data in a manageable and digestible way within a dome setting.”

What types of data can be visualized on the dome?

“The possibilities are vast. Science Visualization in the dome can mean anything from the sub-atomic, micro particle size, right up to the macro level such as the viewing of the universe’s cosmic microwave background data. Audiences can be immersed in MRI, Micro-Biology and DNA data imaging, all the way up to cosmological scales of data. In between, we can visualize data such as seismic, atmospheric, environmental sciences, weather patterns, seasonal flooding, sea surface temperature, WHO (World Health Organization), seasonal migration of birds and microbiology.

Wherever there is large-scale mass data that can be converted for an immersive environment, we can manipulate it for the dome.”

How does the dome environment aid the visualization and understanding of complex data sets?

“We’re used to viewing things through a rectangular ‘box’ or ‘window’ – such as a television, a window, or a cinema. The dome changes this, it completely surrounds you with the data. If you are a data research team, or looking to create an educational informal learning space for adults, the dome can be used to aid understanding, engagement and comprehension. Since the dome offers such a large canvas, we’re able to fill it with huge amounts of data – from one side of the spectrum to the other. For instance we can take a five-day weather cycle, and progress a simulation on the dome – looking at tornadoes, rainfall, land surface temperature, wind speeds, air pressure and more – and visualize this as a modeled layer on the earth’s surface.

The dome also enables group learning at a steady pace with interactive tools – at any time, teams can rewind and take their time to work through complex data – over the years, we’ve seen wonderful examples of this in practice.”

Where does the data come from?

“The data can be sourced from sources such as NOAA, WHO and NASA – plus any of the large data research agencies that produce data for public use.Our team and technologists can also take private research data and manipulate it for dome visualization.

Recent examples include disaster recovery, flooding simulations, virus spread and other satellite data. Our software tools can import the data and convert it to ‘dome’, or fisheye, format.”

What technologies are used?

We use a type of high performance computing system that takes server-based data and manipulates it to play on the dome screen through very high performance and high resolution projection systems. For all of our dome theater solutions, the minimum resolution is 4K – this is much more resolute and powerful than what’s available at home, since dome screens provide a much larger canvas and higher level of detail.

Our Falak immersive theater range is flexible and powerful enough to accommodate all data visualization requirements. We have designed the range specifically to be able to take and present  huge data sets, modeling them in a real-time way or near real-time script.

What makes a great Science or Data Visualization dome experience?

“What’s unique about the dome, is that it allows teams or a general audience to view huge data models in a single sitting – without any extraneous influences or windows. The dome captures and engages with all those inside it!

A great science or data visualization experience is one that really changes the way the audience interprets and understands the topic – from entry level to research level.”

How has dome-based Data Visualization evolved over the years? How did it originate?

“The evolution and development of computing power in recent years has spearheaded what’s possible in the dome, and it will continue to increase exponentially. Today we have the ability to stream and cache huge volumes of data directly over a high performance broadband link.

In the early 2000s, digital dome theaters were primarily used for terrestrial-based earth to sky presentations. Today, we can virtually tour the known universe!”

What is the difference between a science / data visualization dome and a planetarium?

“Science and data visualization look at a range of sciences, whereas planetariums conventionally are used for astronomy and related subjects due to the simulated viewpoint of the night sky.

Many domes can be a fusion of the two, though. Switching between astronomy, earth science and other data visualization on demand.

We can even take this to the next level with planetary dataset modelling – for example, virtually travelling to the surface of Mars to see how they might construct biodomes and habitable environments in the future.”

Globally, how are venues using domes for data visualization?

“Dome theaters, or ‘extended’ planetariums, are increasingly being used to educate the public about the formative challenges faced by mankind.

Climate change, the melting of ice shelves, arid landscape growth, wildfires and virus spread need to be understood for the safeguarding of future generations, and for the future of our planet.

The dome is a compelling place to visualize and understand these topics in an entirely new way.”

Discover more about our solutions for Data Visualization