'On the scale of the Universe, 90 years are just a moment'. Interview with the Scientific Director of the Moscow Planetarium

November 8
Culture

On 5 November 1929, the Planetarium opened, the first in Russia and the 13th in the world.  Vladimir Mayakovsky dedicated to this event his enthusiastic poem 'Proletarians, men and women, come to the Planetarium'. Konstantin Paustovsky inspired the creators of the Planetarium to develop a unique 'live sky' under the dome, having asked why the stars did not twinkle. All of the first Soviet cosmonauts admired later twinkling of Planetarium stars, and many prominent scientists attended astronomic clubs of the Moscow Planetarium.

In 2019, the Planetarium celebrates its 90th anniversary. Faina Rublyova, Scientific Director of the Planetarium, told mos.ru and Mosgortur Agency about the trials and victories it has had in less than a century.

'We can offer something you will not see anywhere else' 

This year, the Moscow Planetarium celebrates the big anniversary. How will you celebrate it?

90 years is a significant date. There are less than a dozen planetariums in the world, which celebrated such an anniversary. Only the planetariums in Berlin, Vienna, Jena and Munich are older than ours. But on the scale of the Universe, 90 years are just a moment, and we hope that the Moscow Planetarium is in for a lot of magnificent events ahead.

It will be a big and fun celebration, including festive events and a special program for our visitors who will find themselves in a fairy tale. Premiere of our fulldome film 'Multi-Coloured Universe' will be the celebration's highlight. We have created it through our own efforts, having mastered some quite complicated cutting-edge technologies.

How does the Planetarium manage to hold the attention of visitors in the age of digital technologies?

We can offer something they will not see anywhere else. Today, digital technologies are everywhere, but you can see the starry sky and perceive it only in the Planetarium.

We are still attractive for visitors, as we always offer something new, expand the list of our events, designed for different levels of knowledge, interests and age.

For example, we run a series of lectures 'Tribune of Scientists'. People come to communicate with scientists who tell about discoveries, which have never been published yet. Where else would you have such an opportunity?

For children 5+ we have a project 'Theatre of Fascinating Science', interactive classes that introduce to the world in an entertaining way. Older children attend our 'School of Fascinating Science'. We organize educational, individual, themed, survey and insightful tours.

Today, there is a 4D cinema in the Planetarium. What films does it run? Are they made especially for your cinema?

We have rather 5D-cinema, as there is another option: dynamic seats. The cinema creates the effects of rain, snow and temperature rise.

We do not produce or order films, we buy those already available on the market. We change films about once every six months or a year. Now you can watch two films: 'Le Petit Prince' and 'Flight over Moscow'. The latter is not related to the Planetarium, but it shows a stunningly beautiful Moscow to make you fall in love with the city again and again. When I bring guests, from other countries, I stay to watch it once again.

'We have no direct relation to space exploration, but we certainly have the indirect one’ 

In the pre-war years, there was a star theatre in the Planetarium. Is there a place for art within its walls today?

There were three theatres in the Planetarium. The first one was open before the war to stage 'Giordano Bruno', 'Nicholas Copernicus' and 'Galileo Galilei'. Professional actors participated in the productions.

In 1954, the Planetarium Art Variety and Sketch Theatre opened, with our employees taking part. These were performances based on their own scripts. In the 1970s, it ceased to exist because the enthusiasts left, and the next generation did not follow.

In 1989, a Fantastic Theatre opened, with young actors and directors looking for new forms of expression. It existed until 1994.

Today, we hold jazz and symphony concerts. For several years, we have prepared New Year's performances for children. This year, we offer the entertaining show 'New Year's Adventure of Toys', with the starry sky involved. This is a unique performance. The Planetarium is a unique stage space.

The Planetarium's history has encountered the history of space exploration. How do you interact with the space field today?

In the 1930s, the Planetarium provided a platform for the Stratospheric Committee, later members of the Jet Propulsion Group studied here. Sergei Korolyov, Friedrich Zander, Georgy Langemak and many other renowned people attended the meetings. These were the first attempts to create rocket machinery.

On a voluntary basis, scientists engaged in developments, held meetings and conducted some heated debates. It wasn't a secret, but no one ever talked about it.

Since 1960, the first cosmonaut squadron, which included Yuri Gagarin, German Titov and others, had trained here. They studied navigational stars in the Planetarium. At that time, there were no navigators, so they needed a trainer. And the Planetarium provided them with such an opportunity. Classes were held secretly.

Moscow Planetarium, Russia's oldest, turns 89

Lectures were delivered by the Planetarium's staff, but they did not know who was listening to them. Only after Gagarin's flight, we understood who were these people. Since 1960, all cosmonauts had been receiving such training over 15 years. Later, Zvyozdny Gorodok built its own planetarium.

Today, we have no direct relation to space exploration, but we certainly have the indirect one. We show films about space exploration, tell about it, invite cosmonauts to hold meetings.

'We are told that one cannot touch Museum exhibits' 

You started working at the Planetarium as a tour guide. What was it like then?

40 years ago, I came to work to the Planetarium’s astronomical site as a guide. It was an amazing place: green area with flower beds, apple trees, lime trees and shadberry. We made some insightful tours of the astronomical site, showing its observatory, tools, appliances, sundial — absolutely unique exhibits one would not see anywhere else. Then I worked as a lecturer, to become Head of the Department later.

In 1994, a difficult period started for Planetarium that lasted for 17 years. What did the employees do before its opening after reconstruction?

In 1994, the Planetarium was closed for reconstruction, which was surely necessary, because since its opening, it had not seen an overhaul, and its equipment was outdated. We had to upgrade. Coincidentally, there were very serious changes in Russia at that time, too, which aggravated our situation. We planned to close for a year, but an overhaul lasted for 17 years.

At first, we conducted educational activities — delivered visiting lectures in schools, libraries, in the factories of Moscow, Moscow region and other regions. But as the years passed, employees left — some found other jobs, some retired. In the end, there were only two people left: me and my teacher, Stanislav Shirokov. Unfortunately, he's gone, he died a year before the opening of the Planetarium.

Grand project was implemented in the building, with its area increased five-fold. An additional room appeared under the Planetarium, it is occupied by the Museum now.

On the location of the old astronomical site, a podium building was built to house an interactive Museum, with a cutting-edge platform arranged on its roof. The number of appliances and models has also increased, so now we have two observatories there.

What does the Planetarium have now?

Today it is a multifunctional complex, with Grand Star Hall, two-level Urania Museum and interactive Lunarium Museum, which can be rather called a space for experiments. We are used not to touch the exhibits in a Museum, but in interactive museums it is quite the opposite.

In addition to the 4D-cinema, there is a Small Star Hall, also equipped with dynamic seats. It is designed for small groups, mainly children. There you can watch the film 'The City of the Sun' of our own production.

Moreover, visitors are welcome to our beautiful astronomical site with a collection of sundials, Stonehenge and Cheops pyramid model, reproduced Tycho Brahe quadrant, and the latest radio telescope.

'Meteorites spark great interest' 

The heart of the Planetarium is a device projecting stars onto the dome. What is the principle of its work, and its specific features?

The first projector, optical and mechanical, was installed in 1929. The second one, optical and mechanical, too, but with electronic control systems, was set up in 1977. Today, the Grand Star Hall has a cutting-edge fiber-optic projector Universarium M9.

Originally, there was one star ball that showed only the northern celestial hemisphere stars. Later, another model of the Planetarium apparatus was created — a two-ball one, to show the stars of the northern and southern hemispheres. In total, the dome-screen showed 6,500 stars up to 6.5 magnitude, as much as we are able to see in the natural starry sky with the naked eye.

Universarium M9 projector has fiber-optic technology applied, so now each star in the star mask has optical fiber connected to make stars pointlike, as in the natural sky.

What other cutting-edge technologies are applied in the Planetarium?

In addition to the Universarium, we boast a full-dome digital system of 14 projectors, a spatial sound stereo system providing good sound during our programs and allowing us to arrange concerts. Up-to-date museum, multimedia and digital technologies are applied at our sites. We try to keep up with the times, and we succeed.

Tell about the exhibits in the Urania Museum.  How do you get them?

Urania Museum displays the first and second Planetarium devices. They are unique, at least in our country. Moreover, you will find exhibits related to the history of the Planetarium, some true artefacts.

Meteorites are of great interest, too. They are all real. Some of them have been donated, some we buy, others we rent.

Photo: mos.ru. Maxim Denisov

'Since I have been with the starry sky for many years, I love it completely' 

What about the significant astronomical events expected in the near future one can watch here?

We always offer observations of such phenomena, weather permitting. We are in for the very interesting event, Mercury's passage on the Sun disk to take place on 11 November. If the sky is clear, we may arrange observation.

If there is an eclipse of the Moon, we invite visitors to join watching. It is also exciting to observe Mars during its closest approach, while it is very bright and red.

Do you often look through a telescope? What is your favourite star or constellation?

When I make it to watch the stars on our platform, I do it with great pleasure. I have a small amateur telescope at home, together with my family we can watch, for example, the Moon, I tell about its craters and seas.

Looking at the starry sky through a telescope is not so interesting, since increasing the object, you narrow the field of vision. It is more exciting to watch a single object through the telescope, such as the Andromeda Nebula, the Pleiades star cluster or one of the planets, but as for a comet, watch it with the naked eye, as you can see both the core and the huge tail to make a really huge impression.

Since I have been with the starry sky for many years, I love it completely. Natural starry sky delights me very much. What a rich and incredible world we see! You know, if we lived on Venus, we would never see a single star because of the very dense atmosphere.

No wonder the Roman philosopher Lucius Seneca said: 'If there were only one place on Earth where the stars could be seen, crowds of people would rush there to behold and admire the wonders of the sky above'.

In 10 years, the Planetarium will celebrate its centennial anniversary. Are there big projects that you have started planning for this date now?

Of course, we want the Planetarium to develop, to keep up with the times. I think the next 10 years will be dedicated to upgrade, renovating and developing of what we are now starting to master — I mean the Fulldome technology. Now we have a small studio, with several people engaged in it. I think, over the next decade we should promote this field, not to buy films, but to make our own.

Source: mos.ru

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