Skip to main content

Planetarium Centennial


Planetariums are a fun pastime for many space enthusiasts and have been used to teach many people about our universe for years. I, myself, have enjoyed going to planetariums ever since I learned what planets and stars are, yet even I took for granted the vast history of the planetarium itself. Though many different forms of planetariums have existed for centuries, the modern planetarium as we know it today using advanced technology was first developed one hundred years ago.

The first planetarium-like mechanisms date back to Archimedes, however the idea for developing projectors for the purpose of showing the motions of planets and moons in our solar system alongside the motion of the stars was first thought of in 1913 by Oskar von Miller, the founder of the Deutsches Museum in Munich, Germany. He reached out to the German optoelectronics company Zeiss with this idea, however due to World War I, development of this projector was delayed until March of 1919 when Walther Bauersfeld unveiled a design for such a projector. 

After a few years of building, by August of 1923 the first projector was fully operational within the Zeiss factory in Jena, Germany. On September 19th of the same year, the first partial presentations of the “Mark I” projector as it was called began within the factory. Shortly thereafter, the projector was transported to the Deutsches Museum and on October 21st, 1923, the first planetarium shows began within the Museum, marking the birth of modern planetarium shows.

Image of large star ball projector

Zeiss star ball projector at Akashi Municipal Planetarium in Japan. Image credit: Halfrain (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The first planetarium building was constructed soon after, opening on May 7th, 1925 within the Deutsches Museum. From there, planetariums started being built across Europe, with planetariums being opened in Vienna, Rome, and Moscow by 1930. The first planetarium in the United States, the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, Illinois, opened its doors on May 12, 1930, and soon thereafter planetariums were built across the United States, helped by the spike in astronomy interest due to the Space Race. By the 1980s, projectors began being digitized with the first digital projector being installed in 1983 in the Hansen Planetarium in Salt Lake City, Utah, bringing us to today where over 4000 planetariums are open across the globe.

To celebrate the 100th anniversary, the International Planetarium Society (IPS) alongside the Society for German-Speaking Planetariums (Gesellschaft Deutschsprachiger Planetarien eV), the Deutsches Museum, Planetarium Jena, and the Zeiss company planned a myriad of events which started on October 21st, 2023, with items such as the Centennial Book and commemorative stamps being issued and activities such as poster and fulldome short show contests being held. International Planetarium Day will be moved to May 7th as a part of this anniversary starting 2024, and the celebration will end in a grand culmination across the globe on the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Deutsches Museum planetarium on May 7th, 1925.