Planetariums Across the United States

Some would call it the greatest show in the universe: the night sky.  Constellations and their stars, the planets, and even the Milky Way are all sites to behold.  But how did they look thousands of years ago?  How will they look in the future?  And while the night sky may be stunning tonight, it almost feels strange to consider that elsewhere on Earth the constellations are completely different.  Planetariums have the answer to all of these questions.  Archimedes himself is said to have had a primitive planetarium.  Throughout history they have been a toy for the rich and a tool for the intellectual.  Today, however, they are available to everyone; the ones listed below are only a few. (click on the pictures to enlarge)

Griffith Observatory

Griffith Observatory is located in Los Angeles, California, United States. Sitting on the south-facing slope of Mount Hollywood in L.A.'s Griffith Park, it commands a view of the Los Angeles Basin, including downtown Los Angeles to the southeast, Hollywood to the south, and the Pacific Ocean to the southwest. The observatory is a popular tourist attraction that features an extensive array of space- and science-related displays.

Samuel Oschin Planetarium, Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles, CA – In 2006 a $93 million renovation of Griffith Observatory was finally completed.  As part of this, the observatory’s planetarium was given a complete overhaul with state-of-the-art equipment and one of the largest planetarium domes in the world at 75 feet.  With Los Angeles being home to both Hollywood and one of the most famous observatories in the world, you didn’t think they’d let themselves be outdone when it comes to a movie theater that shows us the sky, did you?

Griffith Observatory Photo credit:jplouisThe 12-inch Zeiss telescope is the most looked-through telelscope in the world, with over 7 million+ visitors who haved peered through this almost seventy-year old device. Carl knows glass Photo credit:minukAstronomers Monument Kepler, Newton, Copernicus, Galileo Photo credit:maveric2003Ceiling inside the observatory entrance Photo credit:Ruth LGriffith Observatory at night Photo credit:jondoeforty1

Adler Planetarium

The Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum in Chicago, Illinois was the first planetarium built in the Western Hemisphere and is the oldest in existence today.[2] The Adler was founded and built in 1930 by the philanthropist Max Adler, with the assistance of the first director of the planetarium, Philip Fox. Located on Northerly Island, it is a part of Chicago's Museum Campus along with the Shedd Aquarium and the Field Museum of Natural History. Photo credit:David Paul Ohmer

Adler Planetarium, Chicago, Illinois – If you’re in search of history then this is where you should go.  The Adler Planetarium was the first planetarium to be built in the Western Hemisphere and is the oldest in existence today.  The planetarium was founded in 1930 and is a National Historic Landmark in the United States.  Unlike other planetariums, this one actually features two domes.  One is the original, while the other is a much newer example utilizing full digital technology.

Adler Planetarium & Sundial Photo credit:David Paul OhmerAdler Planetarium - Nicolaus Copernicus Photo credit:David Paul OhmerAdler Planetarium - Chicago Photo credit:Go Card USAJupiter, Saturn, Neptune Photo credit:janeway216Aquarius detail photo credit:lost penguin

Hayden Planetarium

The Hayden Planetarium is a public planetarium located on Central Park West, New York City, next to and organizationally part of the American Museum of Natural History. Photo credit:Ralph Hockens

Hayden Planetarium, New York City, NY – Located in Central Park West, the Hayden Planetarium has the distinction of being inside what is known as the “Hayden Sphere”.  Within the top half of the sphere, audience members can watch fulldome video planetarium presentations.  The bottom half of the sphere depicts the birth of the universe over a four minute program and is known as “The Big Bang Theater”.  This happens to be the second iteration of the New York Hayden Planetarium as the original was demolished in 1997 and replaced with this state-of-the-art facility.

Eye on jupiter in Hayden Planetarium Photo credit:HelveticaFanaticWilliamette Meteorite Photo credit:ifindkarmaHayden Planetarium at night in NYC Photo credit:ericskiffSaturn and main theater globe at Hayden Planetarium Photo credit:jmgoldThe Planetarium and museum of natural history Photo credit:unforth

Chabot Space and Science Center

The Chabot Space & Science Center is located along the crest of the East Bay Hills on Skyline Boulevard, east of Oakland. Skyline Boulevard runs along much of the ridgeline from the southern Berkeley Hills and the East Bay Hills, providing exceptional views of redwood and mixed evergreen forests and views of the San Francisco Bay region. photo credit:

Digital Dome Planetarium, Chabot Space and Science Center, Oakland, CA – This planetarium features a 70’ dome with a state-of-the-art digital projection system.  It is a favorite among many would-be astronomers living in the bay area.

Chabot Science and Space center dome open at night. Photo credit:Go Card USAModel of the Earth. Photo credit:sekimuraAstronaught space suit. Photo credit:sekimuraTelescope domes on Chabot Space and Science Center Photo credit:nevermind thisInside the planetarium Photo credit:tomeppy

Morehead Planetarium

Morehead Planetarium and Science Center is located on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. First opened in 1949, the planetarium was used to train Gemini and Apollo program astronauts in celestial navigation. Until the late 1990s, it contained one of the largest working Copernican orreries in the world. Photo credit:JS North

Morehead Planetarium, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC – Built in 1949, this is the first planetarium that was ever built on a United States college campus. The planetarium sports a sizable 68 foot dome and is located in the middle of downtown Chapel Hill.  It is open to the public.

Exterior sundial at Moorehead Planetarium, photo credit science blogs.Trustees of the John Motley Morehead Foundation recently honored Polk with a statue in the Morehead Rotunda. The statue was dedicated on University Day Oct. 12, the 204th anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone at Old East, the oldest public university building in the country. photo credit Morehead PlanetariumMorehead Planetarium features a Carl Zeiss Model VI Planetarium Projector, installed in 1969. The planetarium dome is 44 feet tall and 68 feet in diameter. Planetarium shows are choreographed with the use of the Zeiss projector, video projectors and slide projectors. The planetarium can accomodate about 250 visitors. Photo credit Morehead PlanetariumOne of Morehead Planetarium's most popular shows, Star of Bethlehem premiered in 1949 and is the longest running planetarium show in the world. The show runs from mid-November until the beginning of January and takes a scientific look at the mysterious star that led three wise men to the birthplace of Jesus in Bethlehem. photo credit Morehead PlanetariumObservatory on top of the Morehead Planetarium

Burke Baker Planetarium

The Houston Museum of Natural Science is a science museum located on the northern border of Hermann Park in Houston, Texas, USA. The museum was established in 1909 by the Houston Museum and Scientific Society, an organization whose goals were to provide a free institution for the people of Houston focusing on education and science. Museum attendance totals over two million visitors each year. The museum complex consists of a central facility with four floors of natural science halls and exhibits, Burke Baker Planetarium, Cockrell Butterfly Center and the Wortham IMAX Theater. The museum is one of the most popular in the United States and ranks second only to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City in attendance amongst non-Smithsonian museums. Much of the museum's popularity is attributed to its large number of special or guest exhibits. photo credit: wikipedia

Burke Baker Planetarium, The Houston Museum of Natural Science, Houston, Texas – Opened in 1964, the Burke Baker Planetarium was the first planetarium in the United States to upgrade to a fully digital projection system.  Six high resolution, high intensity video projectors must be color and time synced by a computer to create the images viewed by the planetarium’s visitors.  The planetarium offers a wide array of shows to all of its visitors interests.

Burke Baker Planetarium Photo credit:judsondOpened in 1964, the Burke Baker Planetarium facility has presented astronomical programs to millions of visitors including school groups and the general public. The computerized SkySkan DigitalSky starfield projector--the most advanced in the world--simulates stars, planets, comets, nebulous objects and other special effects such as three-dimensional flight through space. A digital stereo sound system enhances the Dome Theatre's special effects. photo credit Houston Museum of Natural Science

Fujitsu Planetarium

Exterior of Fujitsu Planetarium photo credit De Anza College

Fujitsu Planetarium, De Anza College, Cupertino, CA – This planetarium is another big favorite among would-be astronomers in the bay area.  The star theater uses a cutting-edge projector that is the first of its kind in the western hemisphere.  Its seats have also been recently renovated, which means you’ll be good and comfortable.  Above all else, however, the Planetarium at De Anza College prides itself with the quality of its presenters.

This is the first Konica Minolta Infinium S Star Machine to be installed anywhere in the world outside of Japan. photo credit Fujitsu Planetarium.Konica Minolta Infinium S Star Machine, photo credit Fujitsu PlanetariumStar projector, photo credit Fujitsu Planetarium

Strasenburgh Planetarium

Since its opening in 1968, the Strasenburgh Planetarium has been greater Rochester's dependable source of clear, accurate information about astronomical events, space missions, and breaking news of the universe. photo credit

Strasenburgh Planetarium, Rochester Museum and Science Center, Rochester, NY – Opened in 1968, the Strasenburgh Planetarium is a favorite among those who live close to upstate New York.  It houses the first Zeiss Mark VI planetarium projector, which it still uses today.  The projector, although 40 years old, is nonetheless capable of projecting 8900 stars, the moon, and our nearby planets as they appear to the naked eye under perfect viewing conditions.  The Strasenburgh Planetarium is also credited with being the very first planetarium to be computer automated.

The planetarium star projector accurately shows the sun, moon, naked-eye planets, and 8900 stars as they would appear to the naked eye under perfect viewing conditions from any point on Earth on any date. The beauty and accuracy of the planetarium sky is in perfect harmony with the Strasenburgh Planetarium's dedicated purpose: to foster a fuller understanding and appreciation of the order and majesty of the universe. photo credit RMSC.orgThe sculpture on the East Avenue side of the RMSC Strasenburgh Planetarium was added after the completion of the building. It was dedicated on the occasion of the second anniversary of the Planetarium's opening. The sculpture was commissioned specifically for the Planetarium and purchased with a gift from Mr. Emil Muller, who was chairman of the building committee for the Planetarium and a member of the Board of Trustees of the Rochester Museum & Science Center. photo credit

Clark Planetarium

Located inside the Advanced Technology Center, the Clark Planetarium is a large room with 66 seats under a 10 meter domed projection screen. The key piece of equipment in the planetarium is the Konica Minolta Mediaglobe I/II digital projection system. The Mediaglobe is a state of the art digital projection system utilizing a single fisheye lens for complete 360x180 degrees of immersion. The Clark Planetarium is privileged to be the United States' first Konica Minolta Mediaglobe II system. Not only does this system project a realistic view of the nighttime sky, it can also display full-dome or warped videos, pictures, and animations. photo credit Clark Planetarium

Clark Planetarium, Shawnee State University, Portsmouth, Ohio – While the dome in this planetarium may be small compared to others at only 33 feet, it uses the first Konica-Minolta Mediaglobe 3D system in the United States.  The planetarium is located within Shawnee State University’s Advanced Technology center, but  frequently offers shows open to the public.

Albert Einstien Planetarium

Star machine photo credit Heidi Moon

Albert Einstein Planetarium, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institute, Washington D.C. – When visiting the world famous Smithsonian Institute, one highlight is the Albert Einstein Planetarium.  Exhibiting a wide range of presentations, the planetarium utilizes both a Zeiss Mark VI projector that was a gift from West Germany for the United States bicentennial, as well as a first-of-its-kind SkyVision dual digital projection system with six channel surround sound.  This is what’s known as a hybrid demonstration, and are they are sometimes a favorite among planetarium enthusiasts.

Minneapolis Planetarium

Artists rendering of the Minneapolis Planetarium, photo credit Minneapolis Planetarium

Minneapolis Planetarium, Minneapolis Public Library, Minneapolis, Minnesota – This planetarium was torn down in 2002.  So why is it listed here?  Because they’re building a new one, and they’re not messing around.  From looks of it, once it’s fully funded and finished, the planetarium will be one of the best in the United States.  Its proposed location is atop the Minneapolis Central Library.

In the United States there are is one planetarium per hundred thousand people.  That’s a lot.  Chances are, the nearest planetarium from where you are right now is only a short drive away.  With so much out there these days that parents can’t bring their kids to, planetariums offer an experience that’s family-friendly, educational, and best of all… fun.

Photo credits
Griffith Observatory: jplouis, minuk, maveric2003, Ruth L, jondoeforty1
Chabot Space and Science Center: Go Card USA, sekimura, sekimura, nevermind this, tomeppy
Adler Planetarium: David Paul Ohmer, David Paul Ohmer, David Paul Ohmer, Go Card USA, janeway216, lost penguin
Burke Baker Planetarium: Wikipedia, judsond, Houston Museum of Natural Science
Minneapolis Planetarium: Minneapolis Planetarium Center
Haydn Planetarium: Ralph Hockens, HelveticaFanatic, ifindkarma, ericskiff, jmgold, unforth
Clark Planetarium: Clark Planetarium
Moorehead Planetarium: JS North, Science blogs, Morehead Planetarium
Fujitsu Planetarium: De Anza College, Fujitsu Planetarium
Rochester Museum and Science Center : Rochester Museum and Science Center
Albert Einstein Planetarium : Heidi Moon

Creative Commons Licensephoto credit: Flickr/szeke