The New Digital Planetarium is a scientific centre with the important mission of communicating the achievements in science to the general public and to enlighten people about the nature of scientific research and technology. As such, its role in popularising the natural sciences in Greece is particularly vital. The New Digital Planetarium combines all the creative and technical capabilities of modern audiovisual media and technology to relate the history of science in a fascinating way.
The New Digital Planetarium is amphitheatrical, with a dome screen 25 metres in diameter, and its floor is angled at 23.5 degrees rather than horizontal, as was the case with the old planetarium. The projection surface of the dome screen, totalling 950m2, is 3 times larger than that of the old one, covering an area the size of two basketball courts. However, the number of seats was limited to 280 in order to create space at each seat for the installation of interactive control units that enable spectators to control an interactive show, as well as to make visitors more comfortable. Each seat offers complete support of the viewer's head and is tilted according to its location in the amphitheatre.
From the very start it was obvious that the New Digital Planetarium was a means of providing entertaining education that virtual reality has made second to none. The systems in place give viewers the sense of being immersed into a virtual environment surrounded by images and sounds. In this way, the New Digital Planetarium can offer an equivalent and – in some aspects – better experience than that of an actual tour of a location. As such, we believe that audiences of any age will be able to gain greater benefits from their experience during the show.
The new shows are not static, as they were at the old planetarium and the experience they offer viewers is very realistic. The main projection systems at the New Digital Planetarium are based on a combination of computers and powerful, high-definition projection systems, assisted by extensive data bases with a great variety of topics and content and are not simply based on one electromechanical star projector.
In certain virtual reality applications, special glasses are used so as to create a stereoscopic visual environment. At the New Digital Planetarium, however, there is no need for such glasses because the dome screen provides a stereoscopic view of 360 degrees. The specialised and powerful computers at the new facility can support the processing and creation of three-dimensional graphics in real time. As such, the new shows come alive and literally stimulate the audience's senses. The virtual 3D animation graphics help us render images of various phenomena and processes accurately and spectacularly. With the potential provided by modern digital processing of images, we can also present science and technology from an artistic point of view. This is because modern science and technology are not just one-dimensional entities; on the contrary, they have complex and multi-dimensional implications.
The New Digital Planetarium aims to promote a better understanding and appreciation of the natural sciences by students and the general public. To this end, the topics presented are continuously adapted to the ever changing needs and demands of the viewers, while the diverse capabilities of the New Digital Planetarium can be used to disseminate the scientific knowledge acquired not only in Astronomy but in various other disciplines as well, satisfying in this way the broadest possible audience. This new, broader, use of the New Digital Planetarium as a centre of multi-dimensional audiovisual media does not in any way negate its initial goals; on the contrary, it promotes them even more by encouraging the participation of those who would not normally visit it.
Even from the aspect of style in presenting shows at the Planetarium, there is no shortage of originality. Our virtual presence in the locations where events actually take place, at research and technology centres and in areas where remote objects in the universe are active, adds a particular vitality to the shows. In selecting these techniques, we do not neglect to include all those elements of a modern staging concept that makes visitors actively participate in the show, fascinated by the whole experience.