National

Japan technology helps stars shine brighter at Manila planetarium

by Alden Monzon

Kyodo

At a quaint property in the heart 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 from Japan.

Since February, thousands of people have flocked to the National Planetarium on Padre Burgos Avenue to see the exhibits and shows, which run from midmorning until late afternoon. On busy days, the crowd grows to over 1,000.

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

“The show was good,” he said of his first visit to the planetarium.

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

“It was pretty high-tech and they have very good equipment,” said Alan Robles, who took in a daytime show with his wife, Raissa, and their son.

They were among some 200 people filling the auditorium to the brim for that showing.

Five shows are held daily from Tuesday through Saturday, and two are offered every Sunday.

The heart and soul of the planetarium is the GM Star Projector, a dumbbell-shaped mechanical device measuring over 3 meters in length, an analog marvel 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 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 operations at the planetarium, said 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 (over ¥66 million) 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 full-dome, making the 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 budget limitations.

“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.