World's southernmost planetarium opens in Dunedin

World's southernmost planetarium opens in Dunedin

The world's southernmost planetarium has opened in Dunedin.

The leading-edge facility is aimed at inspiring more young people to explore the night skies, and the digital dome was launched by a genuine space traveller.

NASA astronaut Rex Walheim has had a closer view of the stars than most of us. He's flown in space three times, including on the final space shuttle mission in 2011.

His five space walks are among his career highlights, but he reckons a planetarium's the next best thing to being there.

"I mean with the naked eye just looking at the sky, you can only see the points of light," says Mr Walheim. "But you zoom in and you see how incredibly complex the areas are, and it really is inspiring to see the immense creation, and just what it's made of."

Mr Walheim met some star-struck young astronauts this afternoon after being lured down under by Otago Museum director Ian Griffin – an astronomer and former NASA employee.

Staff want to showcase the southern night skies in an engaging environment.

"All of the shows talk about the sky you can see over Otago," says Otago Museum director Dr Ian Griffin. "We always talk about what you can see this evening, and to my mind that really brings the whole universe down to Earth."

Among the locally developed shows is a journey of New Zealand's first settlers, told through the lens of astronomy.

The 360-degree dome-shaped theatre boasts ultra-high definition video technology, aimed at making people feel like they are in space.

"But we've really focussed on creating an immersive experience, and many people tonight have said, 'Wow it feels like we were really flying through the rings of Saturn,'" says Dr Griffin.

Mr Walheim says facilities like this help inspire the next generation of scientists.

"They're giving kids a place to dream, a place to look up at the stars and think of the great things that they can do in life."

It's complemented by an interactive laser technology gallery right next door – part of a series of projects bringing science to life in Otago.

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