Stargazers can now see what the night sky would have looked like during prehistoric times, courtesy of a new exhibit by the Field Museum.
Chicago's premiere natural history museum collaborated with the Adler Planetarium to produce video projections of what stars would look like during the Cretaceous Period.
The renderings have now been made available for public viewing alongside the Field Museum's new Sue the Tyrannosaurus rex exhibit.
Stargazing During The Time Of Dinosaurs
To create video projections of the prehistoric sky, Adler tapped its Theater Experience and Presentation Manager Nick Lake as well as astronomer Mark SubbaRao.
Using the planetarium's Grainger and Definiti theaters, Lake and his team ran a software known as Digistar to determine the exact location and movement of the stars in the Milky Way some 66 million years ago.
This was no simple feat given that stars move across the galaxy in different directions and at different speeds. These movements may not be visible to the naked eye over shorter periods, but they become more noticeable over longer timescales.
While the present-day evening sky may not appear any different from what ancient Egyptians saw during their time, it is vastly different from what dinosaurs saw during their heyday.
Some of Adler's initial projections show the location of the stars 150,000 years ago. Even during that brief period, the placements of the Big Dipper and the Teapot in Sagittarius are already unrecognizable to stargazers today.
However, in order to develop renderings from millions of years ago, Lake and his team had to consider several key factors, such as the gravity in space and the different velocities at which heavenly bodies moved across the sky.
There is also the circular orbit of stars around the Milky Way, which would become more apparent if observed over a period longer than 5 million years.
Lake said this made the task a lot harder to execute since it brought "a whole new set of dynamics" to their projections.
Despite this, the team was still able to produce renderings of the Cretaceous starfield approximate enough to provide an informed view. Some of the images shown in the animations include star clusters that help draw attention to the display.
Lake hopes that such scenes would inspire guests at the Field Museum to look more closely at the projections and try to see what else they can find.
"'Looking up' at Adler doesn't often involve a lone Triceratops lumbering out of the tree-line or a gigantic dragonfly hovering in front of one's face," Lake wrote.
"But having the sky and some occasional stars visible during those interactions at the Field adds an extra layer of immersion to an experience with Sue that is not to be missed."
Sue's New Display
Sue has been one of the Field Museum's main attractions over the past few years. The new dinosaur display is part of the museum's effort to recreate the T-Rex fossil's prehistoric environment. Sue is joined by other ancient creatures that lived during the time, such as triceratops, fish, and some small species of mammals.