Oranjestad, St. Eustatius – There are just a few of its kind in the world, and according to Jaap Vreling, not more than five, and now St. Eustatius (Statia) is home to the first planetarium in the Caribbean.
This is an educational project spearheaded by Jaap Vreling and Mr. Ishmael Berkel. Jaap teaches at the University of Amsterdam and was part of the Dutch Research Group of Astronomy in 2010, where a dome project was started. With a team of 14 university astronomy students, he travelled with 3 domes to schools throughout the Netherlands, exhibiting, and at times having astronomy being integrated into school programs, as the presence of the planetarium on site served as a key visual aid for the teaching of that subject.
For a number of years, Jaap dreamt of being able to bring a planetarium to Statia. The island’s own Ishmael Berkel, was also harbouring that dream, and many discussions were held between the two to determine how to make it a reality. They both appreciate its educational value, recognizing that when students visit planetariums they leave with a heightened interest in learning. In many countries of the world, light pollution makes it impossible to enjoy the night sky. Statia suffered no such limitation but before now, there was no easily relatable explanation about what was being observed. The milky way, stars, planets, the moon, how they all relate to each other, how ancestors used it to navigate from place to place and many other practical aspects of the universe can now be taught within the captivating planetarium environment on Statia. Planetarium visits has proven to be beneficial for students of all ages, from as early as Kindergarten. Students, however, are not the only beneficiaries. It is an experience everyone can appreciate.
The planetarium is an additional tourist attraction on the island. Located at the Lynch Plantation, the dome can accommodate 25 people at one time. Equipped with the latest software in this industry, guests will be enveloped by the features of its projection theatre, resulting in realistic experiences as they journey through the universe.
The official opening will take place on February 23, 2021 with a small group of invited guests in attendance. The public is welcome to visit on February 24, 25, and 26 from 9:00 am to 12:00 pm. Currently, there is no cost for entry as it is still in its pilot stage, however, the developers have indicated that an entry fee may eventually be charged.
“The future is bright,” expressed Mr. Berkel, “and we are here to ensure that all Statians, big and small, have a chance to enjoy it. We also envision that tourists visiting our island will be able to have this attraction added to their vacation experience.”