Hunt for Dark Matter in the “Phantom of the Universe”

Honourable Mention Prize for ATLAS-Inspired Planetarium Show

21 June 2017 | By

From the chaotic moments after the Big Bang to present day proton collisions in the ATLAS Experiment, the new planetarium show Phantom of the Universe takes viewers on the hunt for dark matter. The show has been awarded an honourable mention for outstanding and innovative production at the 11th International FullDome Festival in Germany.

Phantom of the Universe is the creation of ATLAS physicist Michael Barnett (Lawrence Berkeley National Lab), who developed the film together with director João Pequenão (CERN’s MediaLab), and ATLAS members Kaushik De (University of Texas, Arlington) and Reinhard Schwienhorst (Michigan State University). They chose the unique planetarium format to immerse the audience into the world of high-energy physics. With only a handful of particle physics-based planetarium shows around, it is hoped the novel environment will inspire the next generations of potential particle physicists.

Viewers can venture underground to witness the assembly of the ATLAS detector, a spectacle that has been wowing audiences the most: “I had always thought the accelerator scenes and the collisions would be the best,” says Michael Barnett. “But the ATLAS detector in some ways is the most spectacular thing. It just overwhelms you.”

The premiere showing was held in Vienna’s Natural History Museum, Austria, on 18 October 2016, at the opening event for the Beginning of Everything exhibition. “It was a magnificent location and they really put on quite a show,” says Barnett. “The show was very well received by the audience, which included Nobel laureates Peter Higgs and George Smoot.”

Viewers of Phantom of the Universe venture underground to witness the assembly of the ATLAS detector.

From left to right: Nobel Laureates George Smoot and Peter Higgs, HEPHY-Director Jochen Schieck, Phantom of the Universe creator Michael Barnett, and Natural History Museum General Director Christian Koeberl, at the opening event of “The Beginning of Everything”, Austria. (Image: M. Barnett/ATLAS Collaboration)

The film has since garnered phenomenal praise from planetarium directors, with over 120 planetariums supporting the project. This excellent reception is due, in part, to the film’s commitment to being globally accessible: “Phantom of the Universe has been translated into 16 languages, and has been shown in 37 countries,” says Barnett. “It’s also gaining global recognition at international film festivals, which provide a platform to promote and recognise planetarium shows.”

This international recognition no doubt reflects the incredible talent behind the scenes. The ATLAS creators recruited award-winning documentary scriptwriter Carey Ann Strelecki (Research consultant on An Inconvenient Truth) to produce the film. Its soundtrack was designed by Skywalker Sound, the same team behind the iconic sound effects of the Star Wars franchise. Phantom of the Universe also features narration by Academy Award winning actress, Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton, The Chronicles of Narnia).

Phantom of the Universe is being distributed to planetariums worldwide for free. Find out more about the film here.