Japanese tech adds starshine to decades-old Philippine planetarium

At a quaint property in the heartland of the Philippine capital of Manila lies a state-owned planetarium that has been attracting a growing number of visitors.

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At a quaint property in the heartland of the Philippine capital of Manila lies a state-owned planetarium that has been attracting a growing number of visitors thanks to more spectacular shows made possible by newly acquired projectors.

Since February, hundreds of people have been flocking to the compound of the National Planetarium along the Padre Burgos Avenue in Manila to see the exhibits and shows which run from mid-morning until late afternoon. On busy days, the crowd grows to over 1,000.

Bret Guiterrez, 22, after watching one of the 45-minute long shows, said it reminded him of life in the provinces, where many of his nights were spent gazing at the stars.

“The shows have very much improved since I was here last,” Sarah Plofino, 21, said, recalling with nostalgia her visits to the planetarium when she was a kid. “The presentations seem much more detailed too.”

They were among some 200 people who watched the show, filling the planetarium’s show area to its brim.

Five shows are held daily from Tuesday through Saturday, and two shows are offered every Sunday. This gives the planetarium a day each week for the maintenance of its equipment as well as resting time for its employees.

The heart and soul of the planetarium is the GM Star Projector, a dumb bell-shaped mechanical, analog device that measures about 3 to 4 meters long, a marvel that it acquired in the 1970s. It is controlled remotely by two technicians through a console a few meters away.

Three newer state-of-the-art digital projectors were acquired this year and are being used with the older projector.

Through this “hybrid” system the planetarium is able to produce shows that are both mesmerizing and educational, presenting more realistic and picturesque views of the night sky.

“The reason why it’s called a hybrid (projection system) is because we fused (them) together,” Maria Belen Pabunan, who heads the operations at the planetarium, says of the simultaneous use of analog and digital technologies.

Both the old and new projectors were supplied by Japanese company Goto Inc., which was awarded the 30-million-peso contract through public bidding for the new equipment.

“It just so happened that they won (again) and it was good because the old projectors also came from them. So the synchronization was easy because they already know the details — which parts to replace, how to synchronize with the new,” Pabunan said.

The three newer projectors produce crispier 2K images. Used in tandem with the older projector and special lenses, they enable the shows to be presented fulldome, making the spectacular experience more immersive and breathtaking.

Pabunan, who has been with the planetarium for close to three decades, said they are able to attract more people with the visually enhanced shows.

“With the new (projection) system, the shows have become more exciting and people want to watch more as the visuals are better,” she explained.

With the new projectors, Pabunan said they can focus next on upgrading the other facilities in the planetarium, particularly its exhibits, an endeavor she admitted might take some time considering the budget limitations of the institution.

“Before we can ask for a budget, we need to make proposals. So, maybe it will take years before we will be given big funding again because we have many divisions in the National Museum,” Pabunan said.

Source and image: Kyodo
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