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Netherlands: Eise Eisinga Planetarium

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Eise Eisinga Planetarium | Netherlands | Europe

[Visited: April 2016]

The old town of Franeker, in the north of the Netherlands, is so small that by just walking into town, we find the planetarium we are looking for right away. A small two-story house is marked Planetarium on the outside, but the entrance is found in an adjacent building on the left. We have a look at the exhibition with various drawings and small astronomical instruments until we hear that the explanation about the history of this place is about to start in the Planetarium Room, and we hurry to the ground level room in the small building we have seen from the outside. We look up the light blue ceiling in awe: we see the sun, earth, and several planets represented. Even before the guide starts to talk, we realize that we are in a historic place.

Picture of Eise Eisinga Planetarium (Netherlands): The sun, Mercury, Venus, Mars, and the Earth shown in the central part of the orrery

We hear that Eise Eisinga, who lived from 1744 to 1828, followed in the footsteps of his father, who was a wool carder. Even though he was not allowed to go to school, he published a book about astronomy as a teenager, and turned out to be very gifted in both astronomy and mathematics which he managed to master through self-education (always working as a wool carder). According to legend, he started building his planetarium when there were claims that the Earth would be destroyed in a conjunction of Mercury, Mars, Venus, and Jupiter - to show people that these claims were false. It seems, though, that he started construction before these claims became public. In any case, it took him 7 years to complete this masterwork in the ceiling of the room in which he lived, ate, and slept with his wife and three kids. When the planetarium was finished, Uranus was discovered: likewise, Neptune was discovered 18 years after Eisinga died. With the current scale of one millimetre to a million kilometres, his house would have had to be four times wider to accommodate those two planets.

Picture of Eise Eisinga Planetarium (Netherlands): The upper part of the planetarium seen from the outside

Apart from the planets, which have been moving since 1781, making it the oldest still operational planetarium of the world, there are several dials on the bedside of the room, and the wall, showing the sun and moonrise and -fall, the cycles of the moon, the current zodiac sign, the day of week, and more. After the explanations, it is time to climb the steep wooden red stairs to see the mechanism driving this impressive work: more than 10,000 handmade nails are used in small and large wheels which in turn are kept moving by a simple Frisian pendulum clock. Eisinga left a precise explanation of the planetarium in his will, so we still know how to operate it, and how to keep it running, and do timely maintenance. The small museum holds several astronomical instruments and paintings. We also visit the wool carding room in which Eisinga worked. When we are outside again, we note that the street is named Eise Eisinga street - a well-deserved recognition of a great man who followed his passion and who left a unique legacy for future generations.

Picture of Eise Eisinga Planetarium (Netherlands): Information such as moon and sunrise and -set, moon cycle, day of week, and zodiac sign can be read from these dials
Picture of Eise Eisinga Planetarium (Netherlands): The ceiling of the orrery with the sun and earth hanging from their respective positions
Picture of Eise Eisinga Planetarium (Netherlands): Weights keep the mechanism of the orrery working
Picture of Eise Eisinga Planetarium (Netherlands): Big clock on display in the museum showing the month of year and the zodiac signs
Picture of Eise Eisinga Planetarium (Netherlands): Portable sundial, one of the many items on display in the museum
Picture of Eise Eisinga Planetarium (Netherlands): Looking up the ceiling with the orrery, including some of the planets and the sun
Picture of Eise Eisinga Planetarium (Netherlands): Detail of the ceiling with the orrery
Picture of Eise Eisinga Planetarium (Netherlands): The room of Eisinga and his family with the orrery in the ceiling
Picture of Eise Eisinga Planetarium (Netherlands): Small section of the ceiling of the orrery painted by Eise Eisinga
Picture of Eise Eisinga Planetarium (Netherlands): Several constellations in the sky represented in a painting
Picture of Eise Eisinga Planetarium (Netherlands): Part of the mechanism above the room where the orrery is still moving after more than 200 years

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