New Planetarium Opens At Greenwich Royal Observatory

By Ruth Owen | 01 June 2007
photo of a pink astronomical effect

Visitors to the new planetarium will be treated to a magnificent sound and light show. © NMM

London’s new Planetarium opened on May 25 2007 on the south lawns of the Royal Observatory, Greenwich. Ruth Owen spent a day there with the stars.

The Royal Observatory at Greenwich has been at the forefront of the astronomical world since it was commissioned in the 17th century by King Charles II. The new high-tech 120-seat Peter Harrison Planetarium now brings the science of the heavens to the people.

Its state-of-the-art digital laser projector beams fantastic images of stars and galaxies onto the dome while visitors sit in reclining chairs viewing the show and listening to audio commentary in suitably dramatic surround sound.

As well as the impressive interior the dome is housed in an equally interesting bronze-clad conical structure titled to 51.5° (the latitude of Greenwich) with a gully running across the roof representing the prime meridian (longitude 0°) and a gully on the south elevation pointing directly to the Pole Star.

photo of a boy and man looking at an astronomical display

There are plenty of other exhibits and displays at the Royal Observatory. © NMM

Across from the Planetarium lies the entrance to the South Building, which was originally used for astronomical research. It has been refurbished and now houses the Weller Astronomy Galleries and the Lloyd’s Register Educational Trust Learning Centre.

Professor Paul Murdin, project astronomer at the Royal Observatory enthusiastically welcomed the new features at Greenwich:

“The new galleries, learning centre and planetarium focus on important national objectives, to inspire and motivate young people to be interested in science for their own greater fulfilment and for the better future of the UK.”

The Weller Astronomy Galleries combine historical artefacts with interactive digital displays to demonstrate how and why astronomers explore space. It was good to see sign language being used on the digital displays and to note the accessibility of the buildings for the physically disabled.

photo of a building which is conical shaped with a cut off round end

The building itself is designed to impress. © NMM

The Planetarium itself makes clever use of the senses. The visual imagery as it moves across the dome gives the viewer a sense of immersion within this virtual environment and a rotation effect makes you feel that you are spinning, not the images. Overall it is a fun and memorable experience that will appeal to all ages.

The Peter Harrison Planetarium is part of a £17.7m re-development of the Royal Observatory and the Planetarium and the South Building refurbishment comprised the second and final phase of this project.

Its first phase, completed in 2006, included the new Time Galleries, a workshop, research centre and the refurbishment of Flamstead House, the original observatory building commissioned by King Charles II.

Funding for the ambitious project included a £6.78m award from the Heritage Lottery Fund, £3.25m from the Peter Harrison Foundation to fund the planetarium and £1m from Lloyds Register Educational Trust to establish the Lloyds Educational Trust Learning Centre.

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