Planetarium moves to digital screening

This old projector at the planetarium will be replaced with a new digital one. The announcement was made at a press conference last week.

The Cape Town Planetarium will be joining others around the world in making the leap to digital in a R27 million project hailed as bringing science to the people.

The project is funded by the Department of Science and Technology and the National Lotteries Commission.

Three Western Cape universities have raised funds for the project, which is expected to have major spin-offs for academia.

Iziko Museums said the planetarium would start using the new digital format in mid-January next year.

For the last 30 years, the planetarium has fired the imaginations of all who visit it, including 40 000 school pupils each year. It’s one of the city’s big tourist drawcards, and Iziko said the digital upgrade will help it reach even more young minds and inspire an interest in science.

The announcement of the new digital format was made at a press conference last week, where Iziko CEO Rooksana Omar said the new digital projector would be run off a computers.

The old one used slide projectors.

“With computers, you can update the information and make it more relevant,” she said, adding: “You can also make fabulous interactive programmes.”

Ms Omar said the planetarium would be able to hold more shows with the digital projector.

“The current equipment can’t cope with more than four shows a day, whereas the new one will. The universities will also be involved in the project in terms of research and analysing their data.

“It’s not just for Cape Town, it’s for South Africa, and it offers a career opportunity for numerous fields of study. As part of the upgraded South African Museum, the new Iziko Planetarium will feature as one of the African Continent’s foremost centres of excellence for heritage, biodiversity and science. This type of partnership, between museums, academia and government, illustrates the value, significance and impact of collaboration in creating synergies between generating knowledge and providing platforms of expression and innovation.”

Professor Russ Taylor, who also spoke at the announcement, said the upgrade was about bringing the planetarium into the digital age.

“This is not just a matter of high quality projections with better pictures. It actually will change the way the planetarium operates and its role in the community.

“The digital transformation is changing the world and with the upgrade the Iziko Planetarium becomes part of that.”

One of the big challenges with data, said Mr Taylor, was understanding what it meant and that was why UCT, UWC and the CPUT were very keen to be involved in this project.

“The way human beings understand is primarily through seeing things and that is the power of the experience of the dome … We will be able to immerse ourselves in the data and interact with it”

In a joint statement, the universities added: “As with most institutions of higher learning, every cent needs to be conscientiously accounted for. Individually, none of the academic institutions would have been able to afford a R20 million piece of equipment. Jointly, this collaboration will benefit the academic partners who have invested in this initiative.

“The successful implementation of the digital upgrade of the Iziko Planetarium means that students in astronomy, astrophysics, informatics and design, engineering, medicine, biology, archaeology and even fine arts departments will have access to cutting edge infrastructure.”