The Johannesburg Planetarium at Wits University

Planetarium projector
Since 2011 we seem to have developed a habit of making an annual trip to the Planetarium at Wits University in Johannesburg. Fjord (age 6) loves the kids show and he currently has to do a school project on the solar system. The planetarium’s very special star projector reminds me a bit of one of those alien things on the cover of ‘War of the Worlds’, apparently it is 84 years old and is one of the oldest operation star projectors in the world.

The kids show which is aimed at 5 to 8 year olds (although Fjord loved it when he was 4) is good and covers some basics on constellations and our solar system, but the same one must have been running for probably the last 20 years or more. The show is a bit outdated for example; Pluto is still referred to as a planet and it pre-dates the relatively recent unmanned explorations of Mars and the insight gained from them. I would love it if a few new kids shows were added, especially as we have now watched the same show three times, and moreover because children like Fjord who love the planetarium and space would benefit by being exposed to a wider range of topics. I’m sure that putting together a show would be a great project for a film school or similar department at the university, maybe they could be created as part of a practical assignment or competition? On the way home we were chatting about possible themes such as ‘Space Travel’ (but rather than using Thomas and his rocket, include information about real rockets, the defunct space shuttle programme, satellites, explorations of the solar system and space travel in the future), or aspects of our solar system and universe not included in the current show such as stars, comets, black holes and the milky way. Visiting the game reserve at the start of the Thomas space travel show is a great way of introducing children to the night sky, which is much more clearly visible from locations such as a game reserve, but another approach could be to start with a visit to the observatory in Sutherland or the SKA project site in Carnarvon. If 2 or 3 new shows were created they could rotate on a weekly basis. Well that’s my 2 cents worth on the subject.

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