A look at the old dome — Manila National Planetarium

Published October 27, 2021, 5:54 PM

by Manila Bulletin

• 46-year-old Manila National Planetarium decommissioned; no date of re-opening yet

• The Planetarium was opened in 1975 and had four major renovations

• In 2019, it featured a new exhibition on the ethno astronomy of indigenous Filipinos which shows how pre-colonial Filipinos were guided by star patterns

• In 2016, a full-dome system protected images on the full diameter of the dome

• When it was first established in 1975, the Planetarium was one of the largest in Asia

By SETH CABANBAN

A 46-year-old institution, the Manila National Planetarium, has been decommissioned and no announcement yet has been made on when it will open to the public again.

(Photo from National Museum Facebook page.)



It’s a sentimental thought that a building which had brought thousands of people a glimpse of space through its many shows has closed its doors, at least for now. 

For 46 years, the planetarium has been a staple of education and leisure. Many Pinoys remember a class field trip or a family side trip to the Planetarium.

I didn’t go to Manila often before the pandemic but I have this hazy memory from my childhood of a family trip to the planetarium. I don’t recall much aside from being amazed at those tiny stars lighting up the darkness.

For over four decades, many visitors, among them lovers — while gazing at the stars there — had wondered if their fate were in those stars too even if those were lit by a projected glowing universe.


This will be its first major shutdown since 2018. The NMP has not yet announced its plans as to what the changes will be but there are many who will wait to see another glimpse of space when it opens.

Meanwhile, here’s a brief history of the planetarium, according to the National Museum of the Philippines website.

Since its inauguration in 1975, the planetarium has undergone a total of four major updates.

It was closed in 2018 and reopened in 2019 to feature a new exhibition on the ethno astronomy of indigenous Filipinos which shows how pre-colonial Filipinos were guided by star patterns.

In 2016, the facility was modernized. The seating for 310 was replaced with modern cinema seating able to accommodate 224 viewers. The original “GM15 star projector” was also integrated with “GOTO Virtuarium X,” a full-dome projection system which protected images on the full diameter of the dome.

(Photo from National Museum Twitter page.)



In 2009, the projectors were reprogrammed to feature an exhibition on indigenous Filipino mythology involving heavenly bodies such as asteroids and comets.

Its earliest renovation took place in 1992, after it collapsed due to the magnitude 7.8 earthquake in 1990. The repair work lasted until 1995.

When it was first established in 1975, the Planetarium was one of the largest in Asia. The largest is now India’s Birla Planetarium in Kolkata

The National Planetarium first began construction in 1974 under the Bureau of Public Works or the Department of Public Works and Highways as it is now known. Its iconic dome shape which is 16 meters high and features seating for 310 was designed by the late architect Federico Ilustre.

(Photo from National Museum Facebook page.)



It took nine months to build and cost $100,000, all of which was paid for by the Japanese government as part of war reparations. Even the “GM-15 star projector and auxiliary projectors” used during its opening were paid for by the Japanese, according to the National Museum of the Philippines website.

The project was spearheaded by former First Lady Imelda Marcos, wife of former President Ferdinand Marcos. At that time, Mrs. Marcos was the acting chairperson of the National Parks Development Committee (NPDC). The NPDC, which is still active today under the Department of Tourism, focuses on restoring and preserving Rizal and Paco parks.

The institution was formally established on Sept. 30, 1975, three years after former President Marcos declared martial law.

 
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