NOAA’s stunning Science On a Sphere® now in 100 locations worldwide

3-D educational tool has inspired museum-goers and lab visitors for nearly a decade

November 22, 2013

Dr. Sullivan Introduces the 100th Installation of Science On a Sphere.

View here. (Credit: NOAA)

A glowing six-foot diameter sphere, suspended from the ceiling of NOAA headquarters in Silver Spring, Md., is the 100th Science On a Sphere® installed around the world. The 3-D display system, which was unveiled today, illuminates awe-inspiring animations of planet Earth and is used by educators, curators and scientists alike to explore global environmental data, such as swirling hurricanes, clouds and ocean currents.

Science On a Sphere®(SOS) is seen by 33 million people annually in 15 countries, 27 U.S. states, the District of Columbia and American Samoa. Using computers and video projectors, the system displays planetary data on an opaque carbon fiber sphere, and presenters can draw from more than 400 annotated datasets to highlight weather observations, climate models, ocean acidification plus the latest solar system imagery.

“Science On a Sphere® is a window to the world, offering people from all walks of life a three-dimensional view of our dynamic Earth,” said Kathryn Sullivan, Ph.D., acting under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and acting NOAA administrator. “This tool crosses cultures, bridges generations, and builds a new understanding of this planet that connects and supports us all. It is one of NOAA’s best innovations and is another way in which we can make science exciting, captivating, and awe-inspiring for people of all ages.”

Celebrating 100 Science On a Spheres.

View here. (Credit: NOAA)

“We developed Science On a Sphere® to help illustrate the dynamic Earth System. I never imagined it would go this far, this fast,” said Alexander (Sandy) MacDonald, Ph.D., inventor of the SOS system, director of the NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo.

MacDonald envisioned SOS in 1995, and built the first prototype in his home garage, working with a projector and a giant beach ball painted white. The first public installation of SOS outside of NOAA was in May 2004 in Seattle, Wash., and a patent was awarded to NOAA in August 2005.

Since the first installation, the presence of SOS has expanded around the world.  Through an educational climate network, 15 SOS systems have been installed in Mexico alone.

“Science On a Sphere® is an awesome tool to help people understand our amazing planet. We are partnering with academic institutions, schools, museums, zoos and aquariums to rapidly expand the use of the Sphere and explore how best to use it,” said Louisa Koch, NOAA’s director of education, which has provided competitive education grants to develop the SOS Program.

Right whale. NOAA's Science On a Sphere® is located at museums, aquariums, and science labs worldwide. NOAA's Silver Spring headquarters marks the 100th installation site of this large and luminous tool.

Download here. (Credit: NOAA)

Each SOS installation is connected to a continually refreshed online data catalog, containing annotated environmental and other planetary datasets ( Scientists and forecasters from NOAA and other federal agencies like NASA post near real-time datasets to this catalog, allowing SOS institutions to display the most recent events and cutting-edge models, such as daily global weather observations, hurricane tracks, and climate models.

Science On a Sphere®, administratively and technically housed at NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, uniquely extends NOAA's educational program goals designed to increase public understanding of the environment. Using NOAA's collective experience and knowledge of the Earth's land, oceans, and atmosphere, NOAA uses Science On a Sphere® as an instrument to enhance informal educational programs in science centers, universities, and museums across the world. To learn more, visit

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Join us on FacebookTwitter, Instagram and our other social media channels.