27 March 2017

Have you ever looked up at the night sky and wondered what it’s all about, the distant stars and the endless universe?

Have you ever wondered the same question whilst sat in a giant, upside-down bouncy castle? Well, now you can, thanks to the University of Hertfordshire.

The University’s Bayfordbury Observatory is home to the UK’s biggest inflatable mobile planetarium. The six metre high dome is the size of a house when fully inflated and will be used to teach school children about the wonders of the universe.

The University already has two planetariums but the pair are limited in their capabilities, as one is immobile whilst the other has as a lack of disabled access.

The new planetarium is double the size and has been custom designed for the University. It seats up to 100 people, has better disabled facilities and is fully portable. It has also been built to withstand the UK’s notoriously fickle weather so can be used everywhere from stately home gardens to festivals and parks. But its primary use will be as a cosmic teaching tool for schools.

Dr Mark Gallaway, from the School of Physics Astronomy and Mathematics, said: ‘This new planetarium is a fantastic way for people to learn about the Solar System and beyond. It is much bigger than our current ones and allows us to give shows, not only to much larger audiences but also in schools that would be unable to host our existing dome due to height limitations.

‘It also gives us much better disabled and wheel chair access. The fact we can also use it outside makes it easier to transport and means more schools in the region will benefit.’

Enhancing the learning experience

Inside the planetarium there is a top of the range High Definition (HD) projector that will beam galaxies and stars across its dome as well as a 360 sound system. As well as the University’s own planetarium spectacles that document the secrets of the universe, the new system includes 50 short films to enhance the face to face learning experience. There is even a package to help teach the dying art of stellar navigation.

Dr Gallaway added: ‘The aim is to make science more accessible to more people. Rather than schools having navigate their way all the way to our observatory we can now bring the solar system and the galaxy to them.’

The planetarium will also be one of the star attractions at the University’s Stargazing Live events on 31 March that are taking place at Bayfordbury Observatory. Stargazing Live is one of BBC’s flagship science programmes and inspires specialist and armature astronomy events across the UK. Staff at the Bayfordbury will be opening its doors to the public during Stargazing Live and demonstrating all the capabilities of the Observatory.