By Allison Lopez
MANILA, Philippines--They may not see a night sky filled with stars from their homes in the city, but an amazing simulation of one inside the Planetarium in Manila certainly made kids scream and clap their hands in wonder and perhaps, in appreciation.
“Ang galing (It’s great)!” said a girl from the Industrial Valley school in Marikina City as she and her classmates stared at the bright dots moving slowly on the ceiling.
“It’s an exact copy of the real night sky,” said Bel Pabunan, officer in charge of the Planetarium division. “Here in Metro Manila, the kids don’t see a night sky like that because of pollution and bright lights. But with the Goto Projector, we can simulate the night sky and project the planets and other deep space objects like satellites.”
The construction of a planetarium was conceived by former National Museum director Godofredo Alcasid Sr. who proposed it to former First Lady Imelda Marcos in the early 1970s. The dome-shaped building with a 300-seating capacity on Padre Burgos Street in Ermita district, a few meters away from Rizal Park, took nine months to build and was formally inaugurated on Oct. 8, 1975.
Still in operation
Today, the aging structure may seem like one of the city’s abandoned buildings although the Planetarium is still very much operational.
Pabunan said they often draw elementary and high school students to their four daily shows that take spectators on a trip out of this world.
Called “Journey to the Solar System, an interplanetary adventure,” the show kicks off with a “sunset” -- which is when the lights dim and the wonderful night sky is shown. It ends with “sunrise,” when the lights brighten, complete with roosters crowing in the background.
While the star projector, a large machine in the theater’s center, is the Planetarium’s “heart,” slide projectors complement the lecture by showing stark features of the heavenly bodies, including Mercury’s craters and Saturn’s rings.
Aside from the major constellations that showed the hunter Orion’s belt, the young audience was also astonished when little by little, the planets grew larger until they seemed within arm’s reach.
The lecture, added Pabunan, is updated with recent scientific advances such as Pluto being classified as a dwarf planet. Sometimes, however, the visual effects drown out the narrator’s hypnotic voice.
According to Pabunan, they are currently developing another feature on “The Ring Planets” which are composed of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Pluto.
“Our real purpose is to disseminate information and complement textbooks in schools, but we present it in a way that we show their real features and colors,” said the senior museum researcher.
Renovation of the 32-year-old structure, she revealed, was also long overdue and will begin before December. The first rehabilitation was done in 1991 after the inner dome that served as the screen collapsed due to old age and the effects of the earthquake the year before.
“We’re due for a repair of the ceiling leakages and offices, plus some repainting. More than that, we want to change the exhibits because ever since, these have not been updated,” she said, adding that the Planetarium would remain open during the restoration which would take 150 days.
The rehabilitation would cost around P4 million, she said, excluding the updating of the exhibits.
Outside the theater, indeed, were exhibits on comets, meteorites and space explorations that featured yellowing photographs. Aside from being outdated, they hardly generated interest among the visitors.
Given the funds, Pabunan said they would create more interactive exhibits and modernize the current ones with interesting tidbits. Photo displays would be part of Phase 1 while hands-on exhibits would form part of Phase 2.
But for schools and other institutions whose students are unable to go to the Planetarium, a mobile version will soon be coming their way.
Pabunan said that although the 4x4 meter mobile Planetarium could only accommodate 30 people at a time, it may be a cheaper alternative to hiring buses and paying the entrance fee.
Lectures on outer space would also be held simultaneously with the mobile Planetarium that has reached only as far as Isabela province.
Pabunan, however, hoped that even students from Visayas and Mindanao would soon experience the wonders of the universe, even through the smaller version of the Planetarium.
The Planetarium is open from Tuesday to Saturday with shows at 9-10 a.m., 10:30-11:30 a.m., 1:30-2:30 p.m. and 3:30-4:30 p.m. Admission fee is P30 for students and P50 for adults. Call +632 5277889 for more details.