Thursday, February 02, 2006

London Planetarium closure - the end of an era

To be more accurate, the planetarium building is not closing - it's just being filled with different type of stars. Those star are the wax variety that are spilling over in to the planetarium from next door. Madamme Tussards, world famous for it's wax models of super stars, sports men and women, world leaders and people from many other walks of life are officially moving in. What is probably Europe’s most expensive tourist attraction is explodes like a super nova and swept away the London Planetarium with its shock wave and forever changed a historic landmark of London and cherished astronomical facility for countless people. Celebrity stardom has officially taken over from the stars shown on the London Planetariums dome - an era has truly come to an end.

I hate to be negative at a time like this, but I have to admit that even before its closure, the London Planetarium was - in my personal opinion - a sad and sorry excuse for a modern planetarium. This feeling was further solidified after recently visiting the Birla Planetarium in Kolkata (Calcutta), India. Shows there are not only an hour long, but they're captivating, the seating is extremely comfortable and the speakers are engaging. The exhibits around the building are excellent and the Birla planetarium run a healthy public education and outreach program, organise astronomy classes for students both young and old and hold regular city observation sessions. These are qualities that were sadly lacking from the London Planetarium for many, many years as the emphasis moved away from education and entertainment to shifting as many bodies through the doors, shortening the length of the shows and therefore maximising profit at the expense of quality and value for money. Another prime example of what a planetarium should be is the amazing New York Rose Center for Earth and Space, home to the Hayden Planetarium. The facility in New York is ultra modern, a gem to behold, houses visually stunning and engaging exhibits, tactile displays and children’s activity areas, detailed information for those with more advanced knowledge, dark room video walls and excellent shows inside the planetarium using state of the art project equipment. I shall not even begin to talk about the education programmes they have going at the Hayden Planetarium or I could fill out another ten screens with text.

I'm eagerly looking forward to the brand new planetarium at the Royal Greenwich Observatory which is due to open next year. The new facility is currently under construction along with a whole slew of new refurbishments and upgrades throughout the rest of the historic Royal Greenwich Observatory site. Hopefully it shall take over the mantle of being the leading inspiration in the London region for attracting the public and fascinating a whole new generation of children in to astronomy. Good luck to them - all is not lost!

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