India`s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, inaugurated the Birla Planetarium on July 2, 1963. The Birla Planetarium has the honor to be the second major Planetarium being set up in the commonwealth countries. It almost was very close with the inception of the planetarium in London just a few years earlier than the Kolkata Planetarium. Though formally inaugurated in 1963, the planetarium started functioning from September 29, 1962. it functioned as an institution that would provide guidance for educational, science and research. This is the largest in the whole of Asia and the pioneer among its kind.
The area of the planetarium is about an acre, which has given on lease by the West Bengal Government. The prominent figure who prompted the need for its inception was M. P. Birla. All the assets and property of the Planetarium had been transferred to the Registered Society of "Birla Institute of Fundamental Research".
More than 350 astronomical projects dealing with various astronomical aspects, Celestial Mechanics, Astro-physics, History of astronomy, Space Science, Centenaries of famous Astronomers as well as mythology concerning stars and planets have been presented to the public and students till date since its inception. A free evening course in astronomy is being conducted almost from the very beginning its establishment apart from the courses for children of different age groups. There were many achievements and developments of the planetarium till date, which include the introduction of a Post-Graduate Diploma Course in Astronomy & Planetarium Sciences in the year 1933, along with another course called the M. Phil. Course in Astronomy & Planetarium Sciences in alliance with the Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani.
It has great contributions in enhancing the scientific and astronomical knowledge of the nation. It has the fame of hosting and participating in more than a few National and International seminars in astronomy and other areas related with it. The Planetarium very frequently also coordinates astronomical excursions which help in the studies of Solar Eclipse and other events of the outer space. Famous astronomers like Galileo, Tycho Brahe, Kepler and many others have been continuous inspiration to them. In their centenary celebrations the planetarium has been organizing special lectures and exhibitions. The planatarium tries to spread a consciousness among the commoners to increase their interest in astronomy and other things related with it. For this purpose a journal is also taken out by the authorities, called The Journal of M. P. Birla Planetarium". Here astronomers from India as well as abroad contribute articles in their own special way. The authenticity of the articles is being reviewed and assessed by an editorial board, which testifies its validity for publication. Programmes to publish yearly astronomical pocket-calendars and picture post-cards etc have also been taken up. "Bust Stories" and "A Brief Introduction of Astronomy" are some of the astronomical publications lately by the Birla planetarium.
Among the technical excellences that the planetarium can be proud of there is an astronomical observatory that is furnished with a Celestron C-14 Telescope, accessorized with ST6 CCD Camera, Solar Filter and so on. There is also an Electronics Laboratory for designing and production of scientific equipments. For producing special effects during a show the planetarium has come up with an automatic system for better visual and other special effects. This was possible after a rigorous research of two years, in the year 1993.
No doubts the Birla Planetarium has enhanced the scientific field of the country, which has been grouped among the third world countries. This is a very good example of scientific brilliance and the pioneer in this regard. So much so that it was even chosen as he venue for the 7th International Planetarium Directors` Congress in 1980. Several planetarium directors from all over the world attended this and this is a glorious achievement on India`s part. The planetarium not only attracts the young but the old as well, representing our contemporaries some of the finest in world astronomy.