Welcome to the Planetarium

  • Posted: Jun 28, 2011
  • Author: Theo Ferreira

Iziko SA Museum and Iziko Planetarium

The Iziko Planetarium situated alongside the Iziko South African Museum in Cape Town has been in operation since October 1987.

It is, however, interesting to note that the present facility is not the first planetarium theatre that was housed at the South African Museum and that the first planetarium on the site was in fact opened in 1958.  The planetarium projector used was one of only a limited number of Southern Hemisphere Spitz A1 planetarium projectors available worldwide. It was originally acquired and brought to South Africa by a local Round Table club and set up for a “Spring Fair” at the Goodwood showground. Subsequently, it was donated to the City of Cape Town, who were looking fro some one to operate the projector and they in turn donated it to the South African Museum.

At the time, the planetarium, operated by local astronomers both professional and amateur, presented popular star shows to all Capetonians. Educators based at the museum provided a valuable service presenting educational school shows to learners.

Minolta MS15 star projector

Plans to acquire a larger and more sophisticated planetarium started in the late 1960s. Efforts were rewarded when extensions to the then South African Museum were opened in 1987. Not only did the museum acquire a new planetarium projector, but a custom built theatre was added as part of the upgrade.


The Planetarium today

The present Planetarium has a 15.2m dome suspended beneath an outer copper dome almost 20m in diameter. The auditorium has 142 seats arranged in a unidirectional mode and is surrounded by a projection gallery. The opto-mechanical Minolta star projector, in the centre of the auditorium, is mounted on a hydraulic hoist.

The 32 star-field projectors show 8 900 stars down to magnitude 6,5, and is capable of projecting the same number of stars one would see outside on any dark night.

The 20 brightest stars are projected by individual projectors. Precise mechanical gearing systems simulate the geocentric motions of the Sun, the Moon and the 5 visible planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn). Slip rings allow the projector to pivot about the diurnal, latitude and precession axis independently and indefinitely. Further projectors produce the Ecliptic, celestial equator (right ascension) and meridian (declination) lines and precession circles

Iziko Planetarium staff from left to right:Elsabe Uys, Temba Matomela, Mary-Anne Esau, Margie Walter, Lungi Mvimbi, Theo Ferreira, Ricardo Adams

In addition the Planetarium is a fully equipped audio visual theatre and the star machine is complemented by multiple computer controlled slide projectors, video projection, special effects and a powerful audio system to enhance the experience and transport an audience through the wonders of the universe, the ultimate in armchair travel!

Iziko Planetarium staff produces most shows in-house, but at times presentations from overseas planetaria are imported, a very cost effective solution as these shows are generally sponsored by large corporations. Shows have been produced in English, Afrikaans and Xhosa thereby catering for all local Capetonians and tourist, both nationally and internationally. Our Graphic designer, Margie Walter has one international award for her scripts written especially for children.

SkySkan full-dome demo: Tyco to the Moon (April 2009)

Plans  are now underway to upgrade our Planetarium to a digital facility that will use the power of computers and digital projection to allow us to present shows, not only from our home planet, but we will be able to travel through space and view our universe from new perspectives, locally and right to the edge of our observable universe.  This digital theatre will be also able to show fully immersive video presentations (hopefully 3D as well!) an absolutely breathtaking and mind-blowing experience. This theatre will not be limited to providing only astronomical content and we are indeed excited about the possibility of offering shows on other disciplines of science.

Iziko Planetarium Outreach Educator Temba Matomela at Scifest 2010

Join us to learn more about the science of astronomy, indigenous astronomy and indigenous star lore. We offer astronomy shows to schools and the general public. From time to time we offer Basic Astronomy courses and host a variety of events from music concerts to corporate functions. Iziko Planetarium also offers a  outreach programme in collaboration with our Iziko Education colleagues.  So remember, inside the domed auditorium, we can recreate the night sky, no matter  the weather outside,  in the Planetarium the sky is always clear, for an extraordinary audio-visual experience for old and young. The facility is also available for special events group bookings and corporate functions.

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