A new planetarium to be proud of

The world’s newest planetarium opens to the public in London tomorrow. Skymania News got a special preview yesterday, one day after it was officially opened by the Queen.

Planetarium in the parkWe can report that London once again has a star theatre it can be proud of, filling the void left by the closure by Madame Tussaud’s of its own planetarium last year.

The new planetarium is at Greenwich, the home of astronomy in London, and the centre of timekeeping in the world.

It is part of a £15 million redevelopment of the historic Royal Observatory and is named the Peter Harrison Planetarium after one of Britain’s richest men who donated £3million to the project.

Sitting on the world’s prime meridian – zero degrees longitude – it resembles a cone tilted at 51.5 degrees, the latitude of London, pointing towards the North Star.

The bronze-clad cone is sliced at right angles to align with the celestial equator. Its shiny surface is designed to mirror the sky, day and night. Yesterday, on an unusually warm and sunny day in London, you could feel the heat as the slice created a powerful second sun.

Inside we reclined in large and comfortable aircraft-style seats for a showing of the first 25-minute program that paying visitors will see (the Queen got just a seven-minute, cut down version).

The new planetarium from outsideThe Digistar 3 projector gave us a view of the Royal Observatory on its hilltop at sunset as the sky darkened and stars appeared. But within moments we were launched on a journey into space to look back on the Earth and journey to the Sun.

A brief skim across the surface of our nearest star, watching flares and prominences leap into space and we were away again on a voyage deep into the universe. Digistar 3’s computer-produced stars may lack the sharpness of the classic Zeiss dumb-bell-style projectors. But they allow a three-dimensional trip that sends stars speeding past you like an episode of Star Trek.

Highlights included flights into the Orion Nebula and the Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula, before we mingled with the countless stars of the globular cluster M13 in Hercules. Before long we were back in the solar system and touching down once more in Greenwich Park, just in time to catch the dawn chorus.

It is an entertaining and educational show that is bound to appeal to kids and adults alike. Don’t miss it if you’re in London! You can find out more at the observatory’s website.