The digital upgrade of the planetarium will see this much-loved facility reopen as a fully transformed digital full-dome immersive theatre. This shift from analogue technology will involve the replacement of the “star machine” that served as a visual portal to the stars and faithfully entertained, educated and inspired more than two million visitors since the planetarium first opened its doors to the public in the 1980s. Instead, visitors to the upgraded facility will be treated to 360-degree perspective, 3D edutainment that offers new ways of interactive teaching and visual learning.
“High-resolution multi-media image projection will create immersive and multi-sensory experiences that virtually transport audiences” and “enable the exploration of the furthest reaches of the universe, the depths of our oceans, the inner workings of the human body, the intricacies of atomic and chemical structures and even ancient cities recreated from archaeological footprints!” says Iziko Museums CEO Rooksana Omar.
Spurred on by South Africa’s massive investments in scientific endeavours like the groundbreaking Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope project and Southern Africa Large Telescope (SALT), the new digital planetarium will play a vital role in sparking the imagination of youngsters and stimulating the youth to pursue careers in maths and science to meet the growing skills requirements.
Although full-dome digital technology has become the standard for planetaria globally, they are not all being used to their full potential. The new Iziko Planetarium, however, will exploit the digital upgrade to pioneer new methods of scientific research and learning. The R27 million upgrade will allow the planetarium to be used as a data visualisation theatre with the ability to project big data onto the dome, offering an interactive, visual tool for scientists in diverse fields to explore and interrogate massive sets of data.
“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 bio-chemistry, and even town planning,” Omar says.
These advanced learning and research facilities will also benefit and promote research and collaboration among institutions of higher learning. As joint partners, the University of Cape Town, the University of the Western Cape and Cape Peninsula University of Technology will now be able to provide students with access to cutting-edge infrastructure, which would not have been possible for any on their own. As part of the upgrade, national government is also investing more than ten times the cost of the digital planetarium upgrade to enhance the museum’s research capabilities.