During my recent trip to the newly-renovated Liberty Science Center, a luminous sphere called The Global Microscope became my newest fetish. I later learned that it's called the "Magic Planet", a product from Global Imagination. The "Magic Planet" is indeed magical as it turned, tilted and rotated according to the presenter's whims. Using his wand-like remote control, the presenter provided a grand visual tour of various geologic features of Earth such as tectonic plates, earthquake zones, deep trenches and high areas on the surface of the planet.
Numerous data sets on various aspects of the earth's climate were also presented - such as a rundown of all the earthquakes and typhoons around the world - using animated graphics superimposed upon varying graphical-representations of the Earth's surface.
The other interesting part of the presentation involved a grand tour of the Solar System, showing all the planets, notably Mars, Venus, Jupiter in crisp detail. Our moon was also shown, as well as Enceladus, and the whole enchilada - Io, Ganymede, and upon my request - Europa.
All this show was done while controlling the tilt and rotation of the globe, and pausing at certain axes to examine points of interest in greater detail. After seeing it all, my curiosity prompted me to investigate it's inner workings.
After examining it up close, I discovered that it's actually a semi-transparent "plastic" sphere with the projector housed inside the base. It's probably similar to how IMAX works (in terms of the projector-lens and dome), except that the computer-generated images being projected from inside the sphere shows through outside the dome's surface. In essence, it's actually a spherized 'computer monitor', obviously tailored to simulate spherical surfaces.
Clearly, this is a wonderful display tool. Perfect for visualizing yet-unseen exoplanets and super-earths, too. I'd love to have one of these in my bedroom, except that I was told it costs around $30,000. Oh well, perhaps I'll just build one someday, DIY-style. So much for my fetish.