Planetariums make Tokyoites look to the stars (Nov.24, Yomiuri)

Kojiro Ito / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer

Tokyo stargazers will be given another opportunity to gaze at the heavens without having to squint through clouds and pollution.

Cosmo Planetarium Shibuya, which will open in the Sakuragaokacho district of Shibuya Ward on Wednesday, claims it will offer a faithful reproduction of the starlit sky.

The planetarium, the first to be built in the ward in the nine years since the Gotoh Planetarium closed in 2001, is in good company.

In Setagaya Ward, a planetarium opened in May with a claim that it projects the world’s largest number of stars, and last month, planetariums opened at Haneda Airport and in Shinagawa Ward.

Osamu Muramatsu, 61, who works as a docent at Cosmo Planetarium Shibuya, said: “Visitors will feel they’ve driven into the mountains, turned off the headlights and are staring straight up at the starlit sky. We wanted to reproduce a view that would make a person in the front passenger seat smile and say, ‘It’s beautiful.'”

The planetarium has 120 seats in the 17-meter-diameter dome.

Ninety-one stars of an apparent magnitude of 2.5 or brighter, which can be observed by the naked eye, are reproduced faithfully and with all the attendant colors.

Of them, the 20 brightest stars are projected through fiber optics so that the stars’ shimmering lights, which are technically difficult to reproduce, can be projected.

The screen reproduces about 265,000 shimmering stars.

“I’ve frequented an observatory in Yamanashi Prefecture, and have memorized the star patterns of all four seasons,” Muramatsu said.

The planetarium has introduced the first domestically produced planetarium projector, manufactured by Konica Minolta Planetarium Co.

Officials of the planetarium and the company repeatedly tuned the equipment to reproduce a faithful representation of the starlit sky.

A computer graphics reproduction of the Hayabusa space probe as it moves through the sky will be screened through the end of the year. From next year, starlit sky views using lights will be shown.

Gotoh Planetarium, which was the nation’s third planetarium, opened in 1957. It attracted about 16 million visitors before it closed in 2001.

Muramatsu worked as a docent at that planetarium for 27 years.

“I want to send out new images of the starlit sky suitable for Shibuya by combining purely beautiful views and the most advanced digital technology,” Muramatsu said.

Setagaya Ward’s planetarium, which is part of the municipal Setagaya Educational Center, can project images of 140 million stars.

Yoshiharu Kominato, 50, an official of Setagaya Board of Education, said, “Visitors have said they felt as if they had been absorbed into the starlit sky.”

The planetarium that opened inside Haneda Airport’s international terminal building is the world’s first to be built inside a cafe.

Shinagawa Ward’s planetarium in its Gotanda Culture Center is characterized by brighter and sharper images of stars using light-emitting diodes.

Projectors used in the three planetariums were manufactured by Goto Inc. based in Fuchu, western Tokyo.

Goto official Eitaro Akai said, “The image that offers the world’s largest number of stars is the Milky Way.”

Referring to the recent popularity of planetariums, he said, “People may be seeking a place where they can relax under a starlit sky and away from the hurly-burly of modern society.”