Birla Planetarium, Kolkata: The largest Planetarium in Asia and the second largest in the commonwealth counties after London scientific, educational, research institutes – the Astronomy Centre of Kolkata is the Birla Planetarium in Chowringhee in Kolkata of West Bengal State. Located at 22.5455203, 88.3473032, the Planetarium sprawls over one acre of land in central Kolkata. Also called the ‘Taramandal’ - a 688-seater, this planetarium remains one of the largest in the world.
Gazing at the Earth, Sun, Moon and the Stars in the circular mini-sky – seated in directional seating in cool dark room with cove lighting where all that sparkles are stars in the sky and guided by the discerning voice of a star guide who transports you light years away and around our universe – is an awesome experience and a ‘must-do’ atleast once in a lifetime. Star Show is what the Planetarium is popular for where you are introduced to the ‘Night Sky’ like never before.
In an endeavour of creating awareness and popularizing astronomy and for conducting research, The Birla Planetarium in Kolkata was established by Madhav Prasad Birla. The Planetarium arranges Astronomical Shows like Celestial Events (various phases of the moon, planetary oppositions etc) and Solar Eclipses (when moon passes between sun and earth) daily with the special effects and visuals with the help of Automation Systems - featuring latitudinal, daily, annual and precessional motions for demonstration of the various celestial phenomena.
Employing prerendered content or recorded shows and real-time powerful simulation software for presenting aesthetically pleasing visualization of legitimate, scientific data, the Birla Planetarium provides shows of the Space which will make you wonder whether we are really alone in this universe or the next.
The Planetarium is modeled on the circular dome shaped architecture of the Buddhist Stupa located at Sarnath. It is an imposing structure with an impressive eye appeal which gets accentuated at night when the whole structure gets floodlit. The insides of this dome are adorned with astronomer busts and fading star-gazer pictures.
Being a pioneer in enhancing the scientific field in Asia, the Birla Planetarium in Kolkata was chosen as a venue for the ‘7th International Planetarium Directors’ Congress’ in the year 1980 which was attended by Planetarium Directors from all over the world – a remarkable achievement for India!
The Birla Planetarium is known for Technical Excellencies such as an Astronomical Observatory which is equipped with:
- Celestron C-14 Telescope - a robotically-controlled telescope which is used to discover the transit of exoplanets (planets outside the Solar System) around distant stars.
- Solar Filters - that are used for blocking out a reasonable fraction of all solar radiation wavelengths that can damage the eye as too much or too long an exposure of the Infrared and Ultraviolet Rays on the retina while Solar Observation, will cause a thermal burn permanently damaging the cells.
- ST6 CCD Camera - for Astrophotography.
- Carl Zeiss Universal Planetarium Projector - made in the Zeiss factories in Jena (East Germany) and Oberkochen (West Germany) - a masterpiece of mechanical and optical engineering - a fixed star sphere containing 31 projectors, able to display as many as 4500 fixed stars and reproduce the motions of the stars from the perspective of any geographic latitude. This 50-year-old Carl Zeiss Universal planetarium projector is the oldest one in operation since 80,000 hours.
Prof. R. Subramanian has been the Director-General and Head of M. P. Birla Planetarium, Kolkata for half a century since its inception and is also the founder member of the Astronomical Society of India. He has been the Father of the Science Museum and Planetarium Movement in India where he had set up the first nucleus of the Science Museum and Planetarium at Delhi (in the National Physical Laboratory campus) in the early 50s.
The Department of Scientific & Industrial Research as a Scientific & Industrial Research Organization (SIRO) – recognizes the MP Birla Institute of Fundamental Research, which includes the Planetarium, due to research activities carried out by the faculty members and programmes to spread knowledge of astronomy among school and college students. The Planetarium also participates and hosts several National and International seminars in astronomy and connected fields and has been regularly organizing astronomical expeditions for the studies of Solar Eclipses and other Celestial events. The Planetarium has also been organizing special seminars and exhibitions in connection with centenaries of astronomers like Galileo Galilei (an Italian astronomer, physicist and mathematician); Johannes Kepler (a German astronomer and mathematician); Tycho Brahe (Danish astronomer) and the likes.
More than 350 astronomical projects dealing with many facets of astronomy, astro-physics, Celestial Mechanics, Space Science, History of astronomy, Centenaries of famous Astronomers as well as mythology concerning stars and planets were designed and presented to the public by the Birla Planetarium since its inception. A series of graded school programmes for children of various age groups are also being conducted at the Planetarium. A Post-Graduate Diploma Course in Astronomy & Planetarium Sciences was launched in 1993 and in 1999; the Planetarium introduced a new course called the M. Phil. Course in Astronomy & Planetarium Sciences in a joint venture with Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani.
“The Journal of M. P. Birla Planetarium” – the scientific Journal of the Planetarium which publishes contributed articles from astronomers from India as well as from abroad. A special editorial board was set up for monitoring the assessment and sensibility of the articles received for publication.
Astronomical publications like “Bust Stories”, “A Brief Introduction of Astronomy”, yearly astronomical pocket-calendars and picture post-cards are some of the initiatives of the Planetarium in the recent past.