Whitney and Elizabeth MacMillan Planetarium

MacMillan Planetarium at the New Bell Museum

Rendering at NightHoused within a concrete cylinder at the heart of the Bell Museum’s new facility on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus sits the Whitney and Elizabeth MacMillan Planetarium. The theater will include state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment including 4 Bag End IPD12E-I subwoofers. The system was designed by Sciss, a leading international planetarium developer.


The dome construction involves 44 ribs that tie 226 individual aluminum panels together to form the projection surface. Complete with lighting, audio, and other accessories, the entire structure weighs over 12,000 pounds. Connecting the panels together without any visible seams involves the patented Ulteria seaming process from Astro-Tec, an industry leader in astro science equipment. This cutting edge technology makes the new planetarium the first of its kind in the world.











The 120 seat planetarium theater will offer state-of-the-art projection capabilities that go beyond astronomy.
Future content will include presentations of scientific research across disciplines, such as a look deep inside the human brain (right).


Outdoor terrace for telescope observation at the new Bell Museum.

Capabilities, design, and technology of this space, include:

  • Astro-Tec Ulteria perforated aluminum projection panels create a virtually seamless dome screen–the first dome of its kind in the world.
  • The 16-meter dome forms a 360 degree immersive environment.
  • Sciss Colorspace Display System is powered by an array of high powered computers and two large ultra high-resolution 4K laser phosphor projectors, the latest technology which provides richer color and has light sources that last five years.
  • Geo-spatial data merges with animations and video to create stunning, true-to-life imagery based on the latest scientific discoveries.
  • 5.1 JBL Digital Sound with Infra Processed and Self Powered double 12″ Subwoofers, Dante and theatrical LED lighting provide the finishing touches.

Sciss confirms that the Bell’s technology places it among the top national planetarium presenters.

The museum will open in summer 2018, the new planetarium will have daily programming for the public, as well as a substantial plan to host school field trips and groups that may not otherwise experience the night sky the way that past generations could. “Due to increased light pollution and urbanization, it is estimated that 80% of children won’t ever see the Milky Way Galaxy,” said Bell Museum Executive Director, Denise Young. “Modern planetariums like ours are one way to share this evocative experience with all ages—preschool through college and beyond.”

Original Planetarium Productions

Written by Minnesota Book Award winner and founder of ScienceDebate, Shawn Otto, the museum’s first original production will be on view with the grand opening. The story explores the formation of the universe from a uniquely Minnesota perspective; investigating the deep geological and cosmic history of the land beneath our feet, as seen through the eyes of a schoolchild on a field trip. The show is being produced in partnership with UK fulldome content producer, NSC Creative.

In addition to the recorded content, every experience will include a live program with audience interaction, led by planetarium educators. Staff will be able to guide visitors through the universe and the Minnesota night sky, and use handheld tablets to respond to questions in real time.

Digital planetariums are also no longer limited to astronomy and space science. The Bell Museum intends to pair its cutting edge technology with the latest data from University of Minnesota researchers to produce data visualizations that span the arts and sciences—taking audiences from the far reaches of the universe to deep inside the human brain. The space will also be available for private rentals and events starting in summer 2018, including weddings under the stars.