Glimpse of the future

2016-08-02 10:13
The “Star Machine” Minolta project at the planetarium is to be dismantled.

The “Star Machine” Minolta project at the planetarium is to be dismantled.

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“The universe as we know it, is going out.”

These were the words of planetarium technician Theo Ferreira, as he switched off the planetarium’s Minolta star projector for the last time on Wednesday 27 July.
And while the night sky inside the facility’s dome is set to remain dark for the next several months, out of this darkness comes a new light.
The Iziko Museums of South Africa is pumping over R25m into a digital upgrade of the planetarium. The project will culminate in a state-of-the-art digital fulldome immersive theatre facility by early 2017.

Over the last three decades, the planetarium has been a visual gateway to the stars, providing knowledge, insight and “edu-tainment” for nearly two million visitors – of which nearly half were learners.

Since opening in 1987, the planetarium has held 45 000 shows, with the projector currently showing 43 slides per show.
The “Star Machine”, as the projector is fondly referred to, has been “nursed” by Ferreira for almost 30 years. But parts are becoming increasingly difficult to find.
Added to that, fulldome digital technology has become the norm for planetaria worldwide.

The upgrade will see the Star Machine dismantled and minor building work carried out inside the dome. The new digital system will be installed while training runs concurrently and will feature LED lighting and a lazer projector.

The high-resolution multimedia image projection created by the digital system has been described as “a riveting immersive and multisensory experience that virtually transports audiences.

The evolution from analogue to fulldome digital technology will create a hub of creativity and learning for the general public, as well as provide educational and eResearch benefits.

Through the Iziko SA Museum Courtyard Project, national government is investing more than tenfold the cost of the planetarium’s digital upgrade to upgrade the museum’s research capabilities which will be partially accessible to the public.

Rooksana Omar, Iziko CEO, says: “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.”

The fulldome eResearch capacity will make the rendering and visualisation of big data possible, providing a revolutionary tool for scientists in diverse fields to navigate through their data – especially large data sets – and interrogate it simultaneously. It will also contribute to developing skills to respond to the local and global digital transformation challenges.

Data visualisation and eResearch form the future of leading edge research. By combining motion with 3D (effectively simulating 4D), researchers can virtually “fly” through multi-dimensional visualisations opening up a whole new avenue of exploration – from planetary and solar system science to geology, oceanography, climate and earth science, medical science, molecular and biochemistry, and even town planning.

The digital planetarium provides a unique new medium, too, for artistic expression to intersect with science and technology by engaging communities in creative outreach projects that invoke indigenous knowledge and learning. The digital upgrade of the Iziko Planetarium will enable the exploration of the furthest reaches of the universe, the depths of oceans, the inner workings of the human body, the intricacies of atomic and chemical structures and even ancient cities recreated from archaeological footprints.

“Museums are no longer static,” says Omar.

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