R27m digital upgrade for planetarium

By Lisa Isaacs Time of article published Jul 27, 2016

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THE Iziko Planetarium's famous star machine emerged from the floor for the final time yesterday.

The planetarium will now undergo a major R27 million digital upgrade, culminating in a state-of-the-art digital full-dome immersive theatre to be completed early next year.

Over the past three decades, the planetarium has been a visual gateway to the stars, providing knowledge, insight and edutainment for nearly 2 million visitors – of which nearly half were pupils.

The upgrade will see high-resolution multimedia image projections creating riveting immersive and multisensory experiences that will transport audiences.

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

The full-dome 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.

By combining motion with 3D (effectively simulating 4D), researchers can virtually “fly” through multidimensional 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.

The Department of Science and Technology (DST), the National Research Foundation, National Lotteries Commission, UCT, UWC and CPUT have provided funding.

"Given that astronomy has been identified as a geographical advantage area for South Africa, the country has made significant investments in the launching of initiatives such as the MeerKAT/SKA radio telescope project, bringing science to the people," said Daniel Adams, chief director of the DST's Emerging Research Areas and Infrastructure.

“These investments have positioned South Africa as a continental leader and a respected player in the area of multiwavelength astronomy, astrophysics, research and innovation.

“Despite our successes, South Africa needs many more people with high-level science, engineering and technology skills. This new facility will definitely strengthen the development of a skills pipeline across numerous key scarce fields.”

SKA research chairperson Russ Taylor said SKA would create more data than the entire global internet is screening now.

“It's a tremendous amount of data. It is the last great technical challenge for the SKA project. One of the big challenges of data is understanding what it means. Iziko will be a tremendous tool in helping us understand the data.

"The way human beings understand things is primarily through seeing things. We need to see the data,” he said.

Professor Romeel Davé, of UWC, said data visualisation and eResearch are emerging as key components for cutting-edge research, necessary to handle large data sets confronting researchers.

He said the project had the potential to inspire the next generations of scientists.

Iziko chief executive Rooksana Omar said the new Iziko Planetarium would feature as one of the African continent’s foremost centres of excellence for heritage, biodiversity and science.

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