A Cosmic Odyssey: Exploring the Africa Millimetre Telescope’s Mobile Planetarium

  • 16 September 2023

by Malilo Limbo

 

In the vast expanse of the universe, where stars twinkle and galaxies swirl, lies a world of wonder waiting to be discovered. The Africa Millimetre Telescope (AMT) has embarked on a mission to bring the mysteries of the cosmos closer to home, and this through their fascinating creation, the mobile planetarium. On the 23rd and 24th of August 2023, the Namibia Scientific Society once again had the pleasure of hosting the planetarium in their hall, for visitors from all walks of life to come and explore.

The planetarium came with an energetic and knowledgeable team that was led by Mr Zandrée Duvenhage, the project liaison officer for the Africa Millimetre Telescope. Mr Duvenhage gave us a broader insight into the creation and all its attributes.

The story of the mobile planetarium began in 2019 when Dr Marc Klein Wolt, the Director of AMT, had a visionary idea. He brought the first dome as a test run, curious to see how schools would receive this immersive cosmic experience. To his delight, it was a resounding success. The planetarium, in simple detail, is a celestial theatre where visitors can journey through the night skies and the universe. However, what sets the AMT planetarium apart is its mobility. It can be transported in the back of a pickup truck and set up almost anywhere with a power source. This “upside-down jumping castle” has been brought to life through NOVA, which has been the driving force of the mobile planetarium for the past thirteen years in the Netherlands and is now in collaboration with the University of Namibia (UNAM) and Radboud University.

Inside the dome, one will find a powerful projector and a high-performance laptop equipped with specialized software. This software, known as DIGI, holds the key to creating this unique experience. But it takes extensive training to master. The presenters, all students from UNAM, bring their knowledge of the universe to control the software and guide visitors on their cosmic journey.

The primary mission of the AMT’s mobile planetarium is to inspire the next generation of scientists, mathematicians and problem solvers. By collaborating with schools and teachers, the planetarium sparks curiosity and broadens horizons. One of the mobile planetarium's strengths is its adaptability. The content isn’t static; it’s a dynamic, controlled experience. Whether you’re a schooler or in the corporate roam, the planetarium can cater to one’s level of understanding. It extends its reach to parents, community and industry experts to emphasize the importance of science education.

Visitors leave the mobile planetarium with more than just memories; they leave with a transformed perspective of how they view the galaxy. In Nkerunkuru, a young boy mentioned how much water the Earth held and he had no knowledge about it, an insight he gained by being enabled to see the globe from the universe in contrast, a girl from another school in Windhoek realized that the night sky wasn’t as intimidating as she thought.

Yearly updates keep the software in sync with the latest astronomical discoveries and additionally, content updates can be tailored to specific regions or industries, making the experience relevant and engaging. With this, it is ensured, that all discoveries and developments are incorporated in the various shows and hence the latest information provided.

The AMT’s mobile planetarium team doesn’t just visit schools; it engages with the broader community. Collaborations with local champions of education ensure that the magic of the universe touches more lives. Various community centres, lodges, and organizations have to date benefited from this cosmic outreach.

However, some challenges do come with the project of the mobile planetarium, as it is an educational outreach project which is fully donor-funded and relies on other intuitions and projects for funding. Mr Zandrée Duvenhage reports, that the support of Namibian companies of various industries has been immense. As such, the tourism company Gondwana offered accommodation for the team to bring the planetarium closer to more remote schools and areas and other companies like Perfect Glass catered for a two-week-long trip to Swakopmund.

The Africa Millimetre Telescope’s mobile planetarium is more than a travelling show; it’s a vehicle of inspiration. It inspires curiosity and sparks interest in science and exploration. So, if you ever have the opportunity to step into this mobile marvel, be prepared to be amazed. The universe is vast, but with the AMT’s mobile planetarium, it’s right at your doorstep.

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