The fault in our stars: saying goodbye to the National Planetarium

Published October 14, 2021, 6:00 PM

by Jules Vivas

BRILLIANT, HOT, YOUNG STARS Small Magellanic Cloud (NASA)

On Wednesday, Oct. 13, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) featured the Small Magellanic Cloud, one of the most brilliant and intricate detailed star-forming regions in space, a dwarf galaxy located 210,000 light-years away. The Hubble image posted by the US independent agency was like a canvas of purple haze lifted by gleaming stars, alive with raw energy, a song to the eyes. It should remind us of how vast the universe really is, how little we know of the cosmos, as well as the inner workings and meanings of space, time, the world, and our lives.

Only by thinking on an astronomical scale do we push the boundaries of human understanding. Space scientists try to figure out how the Earth fits the framework of solar systems and galaxies and, in doing so, gives us insights into our own planet. In fact, a lot of the technology we use today are all thanks to NASA, from cellphone cameras to LED medical technology, even baby formula. The study of space is a phantasmic affair.

Two days before the space telescope photo of Milky Way’s close neighbor was publicized, the National Museum of the Philippines (NMP) posted online the temporary closure of the National Planetarium at Manila’s Rizal Park. The 16-meter (52 feet) dome building is being decommissioned after having been in operation for 46 years to make way for the development plans of the National Parks Development Committee (NPDC).

FREE-DOME TO EXPLORE Exterior of the National Planetarium (National Museum of the Philippines)

The management of the planetarium explains that this momentary shutdown is necessary to create a new infrastructure more suited for the contemporary world and generations of Filipinos.

“We are sad to retire the old building, which has in its own way been a landmark in Manila and a pillar of the National Museum of the Philippines as a whole, but we are excited and motivated to work to deliver a new facility that will breathe new life into the National Planetarium as a beloved institution,” wrote NMP on their social media platforms.

We cannot stress enough how significant the National Planetarium is, as the Philippines is in need of more astronomers now that we are aware of the crucial role of space science in our national development. It is vital in honing the minds of the young, allowing them to take interest in astronomy and larger possibilities.

In 1970, Philippine Weather Bureau chief and Philippine Astronomical Society founder Maximo Sacro Jr. proposed to then National Museum director Godofredo Alcasid Sr. the idea to build a space museum in Luneta. With the help of Japanese engineers, construction began in 1974. A year later, on Oct. 8, the planetarium was inaugurated.

REACHING SPACE FROM THE GROUND Interior of the National Planetarium (National Museum of the Philippines)

The National Planetarium became a regular destination for school field trips as it gives a full-dome and true-to-life digital and mobile projection of the solar system. It also used to host shows and exhibitions that feature various astronomical facts and celestial observations.

The orrery has since become a landmark, a go-to destination for school field trips, giving visitors to experience a realistic digital and mobile projection of the solar system, thanks to its state-of-the-art hybrid projection system.

It is an important tourist attraction, more so, a learning institution, that hosts various exhibits and shows on the natural science of celestial objects and phenomena. We cannot stress enough how significant the National Planetarium is, as the Philippines is in dire need of more astronomers now that we are aware of the crucial role of space science in our national development. It is vital in honing the minds of the young, allowing them to take interest in astronomy and larger possibilities.

In 2018, the planetarium closed to undergo renovation. It opened two months later, only to cease operations yet again, from April 2020 to July 2021, due to the health crisis.

A HEAVENLY ADVENTURE Japanese company Goto combines the planetarium’s original 1975 analog projector with a digital projector

No information was disclosed about the new planetarium. What’s sure is that it is currently under its development stage. What the management did mention was that the next National Planetarium will be worthy of the name in our present time, “designed to serve the public well for many more decades to come with the unique experience that only a world-class planetarium can provide.”

In the meantime, while we wait for a new National Planetarium, here are other planetariums you can visit.

PAGASA Planetarium
PAGASA Science Garden, Agham Road, Quezon City

The planetarium of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) offers an ideal setting for cosmic educational tours. Its primary aim is to teach the general public the scientific concept of the universe.

Mayon Planetarium and Science Park

Tabaco City, Albay

Nestled halfway on the slope of Mount Mayon is this planetarium and geology museum also known as the Virtual Mayon Simulation and Observatory Facility. The single-story building hosts four rooms, particularly a library, virtual room, a mini-museum, and an audiovisual hall. The dome measures six meters (20 ft).

PSHS-WVC Planetarium

Metropolis Ave, Barangay Bito-on, Jaro, Iloilo City, 5000 Iloilo

At the rooftop of the Science Learning Resource Center is a 30-seater facility in which images of stars, planets, and other heavenly bodies are shown on a hemispherical dome.

 
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