South Downs Planetarium & Science Centre
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The South Downs Planetarium and Science Centre is an educational facility located in Chichester, West Sussex that is run entirely by a dedicated team of volunteers and astronomy enthusiasts. A registered educational charity, the Planetarium operates throughout the year but is not open every day and for that reason is not open to casual visitors. However, the Planetarium is available for private bookings on any day of the week, and can arrange special shows for schools, private groups, clubs and societies daytime, evenings or at weekends.
The Planetarium project was started in 1992 by members of the South Downs Astronomical Society, who wanted to establish an educational centre to promote astronomy, space and Earth sciences on the south coast of England. In 1994, West Sussex County Council made available a plot of land and a barn which after subsequent rebuilding work formed the main Planetarium building. At about the same time, a Viewlex-Minolta IIb star projector (dating from 1977) was retired by the Armagh Planetarium and acquired for the South Downs Planetarium. After a seven-year fundraising campaign, led by the project’s Patron the late Sir Patrick Moore, the construction and fitting out of the star theatre, adjoining foyer and associated facilities were completed and the Planetarium opened in June 2001 and was inaugurated by Sir Patrick Moore and the Astronomer Royal, Sir Martin Rees in April 2002.
Rationale for the Planetarium
Nearly everyone is fascinated by space and astronomy, but viewing the stars, planets and other objects in the night sky has become ever more difficult during the past 25 years as night-time lighting has proliferated. Many young people, growing up today in towns and cities – even urban fringe areas – in southern England have never seen a really dark, star-studded sky. The faint band of light – the flattened disk of our Milky Way galaxy – which arches across the sky late on summer evenings is rarely discernible from light-polluted areas. In such locations, comets, meteors (shooting stars) and the northern lights are also hardly ever seen. It was for those people who never have a clear view of the night sky – and for everyone fascinated with the Universe around us – that the South Downs Planetarium was built.
One of Chichester’s more unusual attractions, the Planetarium is located to the south of the City, off Kingsham Road, across the campus of the Chichester High Schools. With its 100-seater auditorium, colourful displays, well-stocked shop, library and computer room, the Planetarium has something for would-be astronauts and stargazers of all ages. The centrepiece of the star theatre is the magnificent star projector which projects nearly 4500 stars and other celestial objects onto the dome above your head. There is free car parking adjacent to the Planetarium building, easy access for the disabled, and it is only a short walk from Chichester rail and bus stations.
The Planetarium puts on new public shows every month, usually on Friday evenings and Sunday afternoons, but also at other times during school holidays. In addition to presentations in the star theatre, there is a learning centre featuring full HD projection, a range of wall-mounted displays and desktop computers running a range of astronomically-related programs. Members of the public are welcome to visit the Planetarium at the show times listed on their website. The Planetarium places a focus on learning for people of all ages and is available for educational visits, with presentations in the main auditorium given by an experienced lecturer. It is also available for private hire.