A Stellar Hologram

Joy Padiyar
Triple Take Holographics

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Holorad has produced a very large (1.95×1.95m) transmission hologram for the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City, illustrating the distribution of planets discovered by NASA’s Kepler mission.

Since its launch in 2009, the Kepler satellite has detected 2,326 candidate planets, including the first “Tatooine” systems with planets orbiting double stars, and the first rocky planets within the “Goldilocks” zone where liquid water can exist. It is now estimated that at least 5.4% of all stars host Earth-size planets.

The Museum asked Holorad to produce an immersive glasses-free holographic experience to illustrate Kepler’s findings as the finale of its special exhibition Beyond Planet Earth — The Future of Space Exploration. This hologram displays a real image with visual accommodation, so museum visitors can reach in to “touch” each star, and is full-parallax, so the starfield can be viewed by school groups including adults and children. We use proprietary techniques to produce holograms from sequential exposures of multi-slice data; this capability was originally developed for surgical planning using hundreds of CT and MR slices, and has now been extended to produce holograms from arbitrary three-dimensional data for advertising, entertainment, and education. For the Kepler data we developed software to map sky coordinates into X/Y, with the Z-axis mapped to the estimated distances of each star. For replay in the Museum we use an enclosed folded optical path, with the light-engine from a laser-television. The hologram is assembled from multiple abutting “tiles” laminated on to a large acrylic sheet, sandwiched with light control film for eye-safety and to conceal the illumination optics.

This work has been a partnership between Holorad and the AMNH, with sponsorship and support from NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Ball Aerospace, Utah Valley University / USTAR, NASA Ames Research Center, Disney Research, and Coherent, Inc.