If you’re Capetownian, your memories of the Iziko Planetarium may involve primary school excursions and looking at pretty lights inside the dome. After decades, the planetarium now has an amazing digital upgrade that – at risk of sounding cliché – takes you out of this world.
I was able to attend one of the previews last week Wednesday through my role in UCT’s Space and Astronomy Society. I usually keep astronomy-related things off this blog, but the experience was so mind-blowing and must-see that I simply had to post about it.
Experiencing the Planetarium
When you walk into the Planetarium area, the foyer is still very much the same. However, when you enter the dome, the seats are into a movie theatre-like set up. I would recommend sitting at the back, enjoying the reclining seats and 360 degree view. The new digital projections feel like a 3-D movie without the need to wear 3-D glasses and the sound creates a fully immersive experience. It’s like a 3D movie and VR headset combined. The projection can be used to display anything (more on that later), but the night sky is awe-inducing. City living doesn’t provide much of a view at night, so it can be quite shocking if you’ve never seen so many stars before.
Looking at Space
The night sky projection is incredible. It looks like the real thing. You can see the band of the Milky Way and so many stars. As part of the preview, they showed us overlaying the lines of different constellations. The night sky was “zoomed out of” until we were looking at Earth and the moon, exploring the solar system in detail and even zooming out to look at the galaxy from a distance. The images used were all scientifically accurate. Some of the images were taken from real data and some were artistic impressions. This isn’t the same Iziko planetarium show you saw in Grade 4.
Digital Dome Upgrade
The new digital dome uses a SkySkan system, super-computers which generate the images in real time at high resolution. It’s really top-of-the-range equipment, and it will be used by researchers from different universities! Because it’s a digital dome that can display anything, it can be used for animation and data visualization. The 26 million rand spent on the upgrade won’t just benefit school kids – it’s going to be an important research tool for a large range of sciences and the arts. It’s existence is due to an immense collaboration between three universities, two government departments and lots of fundraising.
The Iziko Planetarium upgrade is open to the public! They currently have three different shows running, as well as special programmes available for schools. I would recommend going to the Planetarium even if you don’t care about space; the new technology is that amazing. It’s an excellent way to fill a morning or afternoon during the rainy Winter holidays.
Are you interested in visiting the newly upgraded planetarium? Let me know in the comments! If you liked this post and would like to see more, please subscribe to my blog via email in the sidebar or follow my social media accounts to stay up to date with the latest!