Astronomy’s Great Revival
From Prague to Polaris
The science of astronomy has always held some share of popular regard, but recent years have seen the wider community’s interest in the subject skyrocket. Despite a general lack of understanding, physical phenomena such as meteor showers, solar eclipses, and blood moons increasingly encourage ordinary folk to come out in droves to witness them. And when these rare and beautiful cosmic events occur, those who observe also want to comprehend.
Astrophysicist and science communicator Carl Sagan was arguably the first person to simplify the complicated subjects of cosmology and astronomy for the masses through his award-winning 1980 docuseries, Cosmos. It was revived in 2014 by Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, and presented by Neil deGrasse Tyson, both of whom received plaudits for their work on this Netflix show. In combination with expensive productions like Brian Cox’s highly rated Wonders of the Universe and BBC’s primetime show Stargazing Live (both of which first aired in 2011), there is plenty of evidence to suggest that as the universe continues to expand, so does humankind’s quest for related knowledge.
With that said, what options exist outside of libraries and living rooms for residents of the Czech Republic who want to learn more about astronomy? How can they discover more about the universe in an engaging and interactive manner, without having to acquire knowledge only through reading books and watching television? Where can they go to meet scientists and be among other enthusiasts to discuss and explore all things astronomical?
The Planetarium in Holešovice’s Stromovka Park is a good place to start. It began regular operations in late 1960 and has since gone through several transformations in order to enhance visitor experience. In 2014, the Planetarium installed a Sky-Skan Definiti 8k digital projection system, giving visitors the opportunity to view projections of the sun, moon, planets, stars, and other celestial bodies at an image resolution unparalleled in all of Europe. In fact, thus far the state-of-the-art technology has only been introduced to 11 institutions worldwide!
The digital projection system has allowed the Prague Planetarium to offer its visitors an experience far beyond the usual boundaries currently limiting similar institutions. Unlike the classic optical planetarium, it is possible to observe objects in the cosmos not just as seen from Earth, but also throughout space and time.
This three-dimensional projection of the universe within the building’s large dome helps to better showcase and explain space phenomena. Want to see how the Earth looks from the Moon’s surface? No problem. Interested to learn how constellations will change over the next few millennia? This incredible piece of highly sophisticated technology has you covered.
There are currently nine shows (three of which are for kids) that can be experienced in both Czech and English. Each show also begins or ends with a 20-minute commentary on the current night sky, though this part is only available in Czech. Additionally, visitors have access to a variety of interactive exhibits within the Planetarium’s walls, including Mars and Moon surface driving simulators, a black hole model, and the option to check the differences in their body mass on individual planets.
If your curiosity extends past what’s on offer at the Planetarium, you can also visit either of the two observatories in Prague which, like the Planetarium, are part of the Platenum brand. The Štefánik Observatory is located centrally, on Petřín Hill, and the other can be found in the northeast part of the Ďáblický grove in Prague 8.
The Štefánik Observatory’s mission is to encourage a greater interest in astronomy among the general public and to cater to the increasing number of locals who wish to learn more about the science. The observatory not only provides an opportunity to observe the night sky using large telescopes along with expert commentary, but visitors can also explore and experience a wide variety of public lectures, interactive exhibits, physical experiments, and multimedia content. They even have the chance to handle some of the authentic meteorites on display! Furthermore, the observatory facilitates astronomy courses for both children and adults, allowing for a more structured approach to learning.
Of course, living in the city centre can sometimes limit stargazing opportunities due to light pollution. Ďáblice Observatory is situated on the outskirts of Prague, where the glare of the capital city’s lights is a little less intense. Here, visitors can also browse astronomical exhibitions, attend captivating lectures, and gain access to professional telescopes. On a clear day, it is even possible to see mountains situated as far as the Czech border, including Krušné, Jizerské, and Krkonoše.
Similar to mankind’s taste for uncovering long-lost civilizations, searching for hidden treasure, or discovering new species, is exploring the uncharted universe and astronomical unknown. With three different attractions situated around the city and some of the most technologically advanced systems at its disposal, it is safe to say that when it comes to sharing knowledge on the mysterious world of astronomy, Prague is light-years ahead of most other European capitals.
Leigh Woods is an experienced writer and photographer with a background in journalism and communications. He originates from the United Kingdom but has spent the vast majority of his post-education years living and working abroad in countries including Greece, Italy, Rwanda, and the Czech Republic. He is passionate about topics concerning the environment, wildlife conservation, and animal welfare but is also a massive football fan.