4 Dec 2015

New Otago planetarium shoots for the stars

11:09 am on 4 December 2015

Otago Museum believes its new planetarium will be the most immersive star-gazing experience in the country.

Planetarium pilot Oana Jones.

Planetarium pilot Oana Jones flies audiences throughout the universe. Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

The $1.3 million domed screening centre inside the museum opens tonight in Dunedin.

There are already similar digital star-gazing domes in Auckland and Wellington and even Mount Cook village.

But Otago Museum is trying to make a virtue of its new planetarium's small size.

A view of Saturn at Otago Museum's new Planetarium.

A view of Saturn courtesy of Otago Museum's new Planetarium. Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

The domed screening centre built in the middle of the museum is the smallest in the country with just 51 seats, enabling the dome to surround the audience.

One of the planetarium's pilots, Oana Jones, said its planetarium was the most intimate and because the dome was lower, the audience would get a sense they were floating in space.

A computer-based projection system will fly audiences throughout the universe, and orbit planets using images only brought back from space telescopes a few weeks ago.

It will also feature a Maori constellations and creations show, and from next year, 3D scientific films.

Ms Jones said to learn to fly, she and a colleague went to a special planetarium driving course in Salt Lake City in the US where the projection system was built, and they have now trained a dozen others at the museum as pilots.

Otago Museum director Ian Griffin.

Otago Museum director Ian Griffin. Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

The planetarium was dreamt up by the museum's director, Ian Griffin, an astronomer, who was thrilled with the result.

Dr Griffin said planetariums were incredibly powerful learning tools, and he expected this one would inspire a new generation of astronomers and scientists in Otago and Southland.

It's not for nothing: it will cost adults $10, and children $7, but sponsorship means school groups won't have to pay.

The planetarium is being launched at a cocktail party tonight and will start rocketing the public into space tomorrow.

Dundein Planetarium

Otago Museum's planetarium dome Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer