Through January, we’re publishing year-in-review highlights from FY2020. Download a full PDF of this year’s Annual Report to read more!
Seven years before construction of the Rotunda, Thomas Jefferson envisioned its inner dome as a moving model of the night sky, but the planetarium was never realized. Fortunately, Jefferson’s plans can still be found in the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library in a small notebook with sketches and notes he compiled for the University of Virginia. The “concave ceiling” of UVA’s first library was to be “spangled
with gilt stars in their position and magnitude copied exactly.”
Using Jefferson’s notes, and with the aid of a grant from the Jefferson Trust, Ph.D. candidates Neal Curtis, Samuel Lemley, and Madeline Zehnder brought Jefferson’s vision to life in November 2019 by digitally projecting images of constellations, as they were known in the early 19th century, onto the Rotunda’s ceiling. Public events included several planetarium viewings, a symposium, and an exhibition of books, instruments, specimens, and artifacts from the Rotunda’s early history.