Bloemfontein can claim the honour of being the first city in Sub-Saharan Africa to have a digital planetarium.
The Naval Hill Planetarium was officially opened on Friday 1 November 2013, with some of the top officials of local and national government attending the ceremony.
"Being in the centre of the country, a facility like this can bring tourists to this province and make their stay worthwhile," said Prof Matie Hoffman from the Department of Physics at the University of the Free State.
The planetarium, situated at the old Lamont-Hussey Observatory Building on Naval Hill, has been established by the University of the Free State (UFS) with the support of founding partners – the Department of Science and Technology (DST), the Free State Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs (DETEA) and the Mangaung Metro Municipality (MMM). It will be the first component of a proposed Centre for Earth and Space at the site, which will be a multi-purpose facility hosting the digital planetarium, an environmental education centre and a science and arts garden. It will be a multi-disciplinary science communication and education centre.
The Mangaung Metro Municipality (MMM) has undertaken an ambitious programme to revive and upgrade Naval Hill and has provided a long-term concession contract for the old observatory to the UFS.
The Free State Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs (DETEA) co-funded the planetarium project and intends to run environmental education programmes at the planned Centre for Earth and Space in future. The UFS will be responsible for operating and managing the planetarium and for further fundraising endeavours.
The National Department of Science and Technology is also on board after providing substantial funding to the UFS to purchase the projection system that will be used in the planetarium.
The Joan St Leger Lindbergh Charitable Trust, the Herman Ohlthaver Trust, the Old Mutual Foundation, the Raubex Group and Sun International through the Windmill Corporate Social Investment, have also provided substantial funding for the project. The American Museum of Natural History and the University of Michigan have made available some of the material to be shown in the planetarium.
"This recognition and national interest in the project demonstrates the importance of the first digital planetarium in Sub-Saharan Africa to the advancement of science and astronomy. It is also evidence that a facility like this is important for the training of the next generation of scientists," said Prof Hoffman.