The Priyadarshini Planetarium – the Biggest Dome in South India

In 2011, the Priyadarshini Planetarium at the Kerala State Science and Technology Museum was set to become a 3D Planetarium with IMAX standards and was shut for modernization work. On July 28th 2015 the upgraded institution opened its doors for journalists and professionals who got a chance to its brand-new projectors and tilted dome in all their glory during a trial run. The guests present at the function enjoyed the starry treat, including a short trip through a nebula.

[caption id="attachment_32598" align="aligncenter" width="640"]Gallery at the Priyadarshini Planetarium The gallery leading up to the Priyadarshini Planetarium.
Photo credit: Priyadarshini Planetarium[/caption]

Though the planetarium was inaugurated in September 1994, its equipment (from Goto Inc). Arul Jerald Prakash, the Director of Kerala Science and Technology Museum, mentioned in one of his interviews:

The star projector and the dome were purchased way back in 1984, seven years before the planetarium was even opened to the public. So we are talking about a technology that's over twenty five years old. Nowadays digital technology is the trend all over. But here we still use slides for projection, and their production too has been stopped.

In 2011, the governing body chaired by Education Minister Abdu Rabb granted permission for the planetarium modernization. Since there were no Indian planetarium manufacturers, global tenders were invited. The tender was awarded to Carl Zeiss (Germany) which procured the seamless projection dome from Astro-Tec Manufacturing (USA).

An installed 17-meter projection dome has replaced the 15-meter old one and has an area of about 4,900 sq ft, with a 33% increase. The planetarium dome is tilted, so it allows visitors to watch the show without craning their necks and brings in IMAX equivalent quality to the shows. Instead of going with the single projector, there is a cluster of digital video F32 projectors to achieve a 2K resolution on the dome.

[caption id="attachment_32599" align="aligncenter" width="620"]The modernized Priyadarshini Planetarium The modernized Priyadarshini Planetarium at KSSTM.
Photo Credits: B.P Deepu, New Indian Express[/caption]

However, to view the starry night, the planetarium still uses a similar, yet smaller, opto-mechanical projector. The stars projected with this device have greater clarity than the digital projectors can achieve. The hybrid technology makes a better visual experience and creates a truly immersive effect. Looking at the results of the modernization work, KSSTM director Arul Jerald Prakash says:

This planetarium can be considered as the best tech planetarium in the country which vividly integrates opto-mechanical star master projection and immersive digital film projection. It offers the best visual treat that surpasses all movie theatres, dome theatres and planetariums in south India.

There is also a gallery leading up to the planetarium, whose numerous exhibits cover the history of astronomy and space science. Among reflective and refractive telescopes an exploratorium that helps to determine the visitor's weight on other planets, will be the major attraction. In Arul Jerald Prakash’s opinion:

The gallery is important and this planetarium should not be reduced to a fulldome movie theatre. This is non-formal science education in astronomy after all. The aim of the planetarium is to impart packets of knowledge to the people. It aims at kindling the thirst for knowledge among children. And it aims at removing the various misbeliefs and superstitions concerning the planets and stars among the people.

Once the renovated planetarium is opened for the public, it will offer astronomy shows and fulldome films. The visitors, mostly students, will be taken through the gallery before given the stunning visual experience of stars, planets and other celestial objects appear moving realistically and simulating a life in outer space.

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