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UVa Rotunda to display planetarium in two-day event

The University of Virginia’s Rotunda will once again be filled with stars during the Rotunda Planetarium Public Nights on Friday and Saturday.

Attendees of the free event can view images of the constellations as they’re projected onto the ceiling of the Dome Room. Meanwhile, the public nights will feature music by the Youth Orchestras of Central Virginia, as well as historical actor-interpreter Bill Barker, who will play the role of Thomas Jefferson.

While the Rotunda Planetarium debuted in 2019, it’s an idea from Thomas Jefferson himself. In 1818, the third U.S. president and founder of UVa wrote, “The concave ceiling of the Rotunda is proposed to be painted sky-blue and spangled with gilt stars in their position and magnitude copied exactly.”

The vision was realized by UVa English Ph.D. candidates Neal Curtis, Samuel Lemley and Madeline Zehnder, who researched Jefferson’s original plans and used projectors to install a temporary planetarium in the Rotunda’s Dome Room.

Lemley told The Daily Progress in 2019 he was proud of the work he and his collaborators put into the project and that he hoped the project would send a message about the versatility of the Rotunda.

“The Rotunda is more than just a mausoleum to Jefferson’s legacy; it was always intended to be an interdisciplinary and exciting place,” Lemley said. “We hope that this serves as the impetus to make it that again.”

The planetarium will be on display in the Dome Room of UVa’s Rotunda from 6 to 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. The event is free to the public.


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