Planetariums are strangely transformative spaces. You enter, ego clenched tight and safely intact, only to leave humbled and set free from the burden of self … for a moment at least.
It all starts the second you take your seat and find yourself flung backwards with no prior warning. This is, of course, followed by an immediate knee-jerk forward lurch – a desperate attempt to regain your rudely compromised composure.
Glancing around embarrassed, you notice that no one noticed, because – wait for it – all the bodies around you are in a blissful state of recline, eyes gazing upward.
You allow the seat to tilt back – slowly, steadily – and finally find your own gentle cradle.
The lights go down and overhead constellations start to bloom. Swept up in the Milky Way, you’re transported to faraway planets and to galaxies billions of light years away.
Somewhere between M83 and Centaurus A, you suddenly realise that you’ve been a weightless entity all along. A mere speck in the multiverse. And all your troubles fade miraculously away.
It’s true: visiting the planetarium every once in a while is excellent therapy; affordable and fun.
So, if you’re in the market for a bit of a lift, the good news is that – after several months of refurbishment – the Iziko Planetarium is set to reopen this Saturday (27 May) with the spectacular addition of a Digital Dome.
A giant leap for African science
Since its establishment in the 1950s, followed by the installation of a dedicated star machine in the 1980s, the planetarium has provided edutainment to over 2 million visitors and now stands on the brink of an exciting new digital era.
With a sturdy R28m investment – with partners ranging from the National Lotteries Commission to the Departments of Art and Culture and Science and Technology, as well as various key academic institutions in the Western Cape – the project has brought the most advanced digital visualisation technology to Cape Town, creating a world-class digital full dome theatre experience, with multiple functionalities and unparalleled 3-D edutainment opportunities.
Significantly, the upgraded Iziko Planetarium and Digital Dome will also assist in optimising South Africa’s eResearch and data visualisation capacity, placing us at the cutting edge of technology, both on the continent and globally. In addition, this new facility will assist local scientists to develop the skills base and infrastructure required for projects such as Square Kilometre Array (SKA), Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) and MeerKAT radio telescope.
In his endorsement of this project, world renowned astrophysicist, author and science communicator, Dr Neil DeGrasse Tyson noted: “No longer is the visitor limited to what the universe looks like from Earth. Vistas from across the galaxy and the universe itself are now possible … A digital planetarium further enables the wonders of the natural world to touch our lives in unexpected ways. Whether we gain perspective of our place in the world experiencing the diversity of pan-African culture, its folklore, and its art ̶ writ large in the night sky; or by witnessing the forces of nature and how climate-change affects our planet; or by exploring the infinite universe ̶ we are not the same walking out of the dome as when we walked in.
“Innovation in science and technology in the 21st century is the foundation of tomorrow’s economy and our planet’s sustainability. Given the challenges facing us all, I know of no better way to unleash the untapped potential within the citizenry of the African continent.”
With its ability to offer a range of immersive and multi-sensory experiences, Iziko intends for the Planetarium and Digital Dome to become a hub of creativity and a space of innovation, where art and science meet to create a new platform for local artistic production, film and animation.
“As part of the upgraded Iziko South African Museum, the new Iziko Planetarium and Digital Dome will feature as one of the African continent’s foremost centres of excellence for indigenous knowledge generation. This type of partnership, between museums, academia and government illustrates the value and impact of collaboration in creating synergies between generating knowledge and providing platforms of expression and innovation,” Rooksana Omar, Chief Executive Officer, Iziko Museums of South Africa, said at the media launch on Tuesday.
The refurbished planetarium will also offer scientists of all disciplines – specifically those working in the fields of medicine and biology – an opportunity to further immerse themselves in their subject matter through the projection of visual data on the digital dome.
The upgrade of the Iziko planetarium forms an important adjunct to the roll out of a major Capital Works Project currently underway at the Iziko South African Museum. More than R220 million is being invested by the DAC to renovate the existing four-storey research space into a seven-storey, contemporary facility that will be partially accessible to the public, so that they can interact with the quintessence of this museum – research.
Planetarium shows and ticketing details
Tickets for the re-opening of the Iziko Planetarium and Digital Dome can currently only be purchased at the door, which means that you best arrive early, as there is a limit of 140 seats for every show.
Starting on Saturday, visitors will have a choice of three fantastic features:
Aimed at kids, join Tycho the dog and his friends, Ruby and Michael, as they blast off on a space travel adventure – exploring the sun, moon, planets and so much more.
Go on an extreme mission of discovery. Explore how asteroids are both a danger and an opportunity for humankind.
Need to break away from everyday life? Sit back, relax and take off on a journey of unimaginable scale and beauty through our universe!
Visit the Iziko website for more details.