Iziko Planetarium enters starry digital age

Dr Bongani Ndhlovu, executive director of core functions at Iziko Museums of South Africa.

Imagine travelling millions of light years away from earth.This is just one of the many things that can be experienced at the newly reopened Iziko Planetarium and Digital Dome.

And it’s a far cry from the old slide show technology.

The director of the planetarium, Theo Ferreira, said he was very excited about the reopening, with the first meetings to discuss the move to digital having taken place at the end of 2014.

“We were using technology from the 1980s. We needed to get with the times and beef up the technology. We also wanted to create a facility that could do some research.”

He said the system was built with two computer clusters, one of them being for research. “Now, with what we’ve got, we can do different types of presentations. The whole dome becomes a screen and you get almost a 3D experience.”

Investments totalling R28.5 million were secured for this project, with partners including the Department of Arts and Culture; the Department of Science and Technology; the National Research Foundation; the National Lotteries Board; the University of Cape Town, University of the Western Cape and the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT).

To promote the dome as an educational tool, said Mr Ferreira, there would be four school shows every day.

Rooksana Omar, CEO of the Iziko Museums, said the opening of the new digital dome was a momentous occasion for Iziko.

“By the mid-80s a dedicated dome was built, what was then a state-of-the-art star machine. Although this technology has become increasingly outdated, the planetarium has remained a popular attraction.

“This new facility will empower South African scientists to develop the skills for projects such as the Square Kilometre Array, Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) and MeerKAT radio telescope.

“It will also be a space of invention, creating a new platform not only for scientists but also local artistic production, film and animation.”

Planterium patron, Professor Danie Visser said modern science was about co-operation and being able to handle very large data sets. “This project is a wonderful example of co-operation,” he said.

“We have here the ability to do something very special. This takes it to a new level because here scientists can work together to create shows that will make our young people interested in science. In a world of huge data sets, some data can only be understood if you can see it. Data visualisation is about astronomy but can also go beyond that.”

The doors of the new Iziko Planetarium and Digital Dome open to the public on Saturday May 27.