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The Sphere in Las Vegas projects Earth back to Earth

John Bleasby
The Sphere in Las Vegas projects Earth back to Earth
SPHERE ENTERTAINMENT — The Sphere made its debut in spectacular fashion on July 4 in Las Vegas with animated displays on its exterior surface, beginning with the message “Hello World.”

In a destination city without bounds for sensorial pleasure, The Sphere is right at home in Las Vegas.

The Sphere is like no other entertainment facility in the world. At a reported cost of US$2.3 billion, and constructed from 3,000 tons of steel, it’s a geodesic dome that towers 366 feet high and over 500 feet across. That’s more than twice the height of the domes of Spaceship Earth at Epcot in Florida’s Disney World and Vancouver’s Science World, and encapsulates a volume sufficient to hide the Statue of Liberty.

The Sphere sits just east of the Las Vegas strip and is connected to the iconic Venetian Resort by a walkway. The project owner is Sphere Entertainment Co., a spin-off from Madison Square Garden (MSG) Company, a live entertainment and media holding company that also owns the New York Knicks and New York Rangers.

The dome structure itself was designed by global architectural firm Populous, known for over 3,000 people-gathering projects of all types around the world, including stadiums, convention centres and Olympic Games venues.

The Las Vegas Sphere complex is the first of what was intended to be two such entertainment attractions when first announced in 2018. A second installation was planned in the east London area of Stratford in the U.K. In fact, MSG purchased five acres of land near the Westfield Stratford City shopping centre, a major visitor attraction. However, U.K. Housing Secretary Michael Gove put the project on hold earlier this year.

It’s how The Sphere entertains visitors that make it an instant global attraction.

Both the interior and exterior surfaces are, in fact, projection areas that utilize levels of complexity and sophistication never seen before in a single facility.

The 580,000-square-foot exterior is the largest, highest resolution LED screen on Earth, MSG says. For example, images sent by NASA from the International Space Station (ISS) projected onto the Exosphere’s surface will offer a view of Earth from space at a level of detail never possible before. It’s made possible by blending imagery from 1.2 million LED pucks spaced eight inches apart, each one containing 48 individual LED diodes capable of displaying 256 million different colors. The result is The Sphere will be visible from space, giving back to the universe what has been sent to it by the ISS.

Such an immense curved projection surface created new levels of challenge for the project team to deliver both distortion-free images as well as protection from UV and heat. Many of The Sphere’s critical components were built virtually using the Finite Element Method in order to test and verify strength and functionality.

David Hopkinson, president and Chief Operating Officer of MSG Sports, described The Sphere’s Exosphere in a media release as, “a 360-degree canvas for brand storytelling that will be seen around the world. There’s nothing comparable to the impact from displaying innovative brand and immersive content on the world’s largest video screen. The extraordinary experiences we can create are only limited by imagination.”

Engineers and math enthusiasts might be aroused by the list of over 20 mathematical formulas and theorems used in the design and creation of the dome as well as the sensory experiences that will be enjoyed by visitors.

These include Snell’s Law for the development of crystal clear projected images, the Helmholtz Equation to calculate how 3D sound travels through The Sphere, not to mention area, volume and geodesic math required for calculating the interlocking triangles that make up the dome.

The Sphere has a total interior crowd capacity of 20,000 including standing spaces. Audiences will experience the visual impact of a 16K x 16K, 170-million-pixel LED screen, made possible by an array of cameras projected onto a 250-foot-high, 160,000-square-foot plane that envelopes those inside. Beyond the visual, 160,000 speakers deliver sound to each seat. Haptic seats that vibrate, and 4D technology that can create wind, temperature changes and scent effects, complete the sensory experience.

MSG has planned a variety of events for later this year following The Sphere’s spectacular debut during July 4 celebrations in Las Vegas. It begins in August with the Irish band U2 performing its UV Achtung Baby Live concert. In October, Sphere Experience, Postcard from Earth, directed by Darren Aronofsky, will be projected onto the exosphere surface, followed by live and televised coverage of the Las Vegas Formula 1 Grand Prix in November.

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