As summer’s heat increases, consider cooling off in a most unlikely place — a planetarium show. You’ll get a respite from heat and humidity and learn about the night sky in a truly fun way.
What Happens at a Planetarium Show?
Planetarium shows usually include a sky tour, which is a narrated overview of constellations, planets, and other objects in the current night sky. Most planetarium shows also include either an overview of current space science news, a themed presentation, an opportunity to go outdoors and look through a telescope, or a full-dome movie. Some include a combination of most or all of these activities. Planetarium shows last from 45 minutes to one hour and 15 minutes.
The planetarium theater is dome shaped. During the sky tour, the presenter projects a digital image of the night sky onto the dome. The presenter can rotate the “sky,” zoom in on a planet or galaxy, and “fly” through the heavens to show viewers the wonders of space. Sky tours can be quite brief or very lengthy, depending on the focus of the planetarium show.
Full-dome movies are also projected onto the dome. Some dome movies are very family-friendly, while others focus on adult-level science topics. A typical dome movie lasts 25 to 35 minutes.
Costs for planetarium shows vary from free of charge to about $8 per ticket. The Davis Planetarium at the Maryland Science Center is an exception — planetarium shows are included with your museum admission ticket.
Tips for Attending a Planetarium Show
Decide which planetarium show is best for your family. Some dome movies contain bright flashes of light and loud sound effects which might frighten younger children. If in doubt, call the planetarium office and ask for dome movie recommendations or visit the planetarium’s website and watch dome movie trailers. Families with young children will especially enjoy family-oriented events that include a dome movie and a chance to look through a telescope.
- Buy tickets in advance if possible so that you know you will have a seat at your selected show.
- Bring a light jacket or sweater. Planetariums are quite cool inside.
- Get there early. Planetarium shows are usually open seating. Arriving early will give you better seating options.
- At the very least, be on time. You won’t be able to enter the planetarium after the show begins.
- Turn off and put away your smartphone. If you turn on your phone during the show, the lighted screen will create a distraction for everyone.
- Remind your group to watch the planetarium show quietly. Sounds bounce off the dome and detract from everyone’s enjoyment of the show.
- If you feel motion sickness coming on during the show, close your eyes for a moment so you don’t have to watch the digital night sky rotate.
Maryland planetariums that offer summer shows
The Maryland Science Center’s Davis Planetarium is the place to be if you want to watch more than one planetarium show per day. The Davis Planetarium schedules at least three planetarium shows daily. You can usually watch four planetarium shows on Saturdays and Sundays. Admission is included with your Maryland Science Center ticket.
Each planetarium show is different, but they all include a brief overview of the constellations in the current night sky and either a dome movie or a “cruise the cosmos” experience in which you “fly” from Earth to places far outside our Milky Way galaxy.
These planetarium shows are quite popular. Plan to line up several minutes before the early afternoon shows and at least ten minutes prior to the later afternoon shows, especially on weekends.
Howard County’s Robinson Nature Center presents astronomy-themed events for ages three and up at its planetarium, located in the Nature Center building.
Family Fridays include a sky tour and dome movie. Ages five and up are welcome. Friday Adult Planetarium Shows offer adult astronomy buffs a sky tour, an update on space news and a dome movie.
Children ages three and older can attend Saturday Planetarium Movies with a ticketed parent.
The Lil’ Stars Astronomy Program includes a short planetarium show and astronomy-themed activities for children ages three and up and their accompanying parents. Both parent and child must have tickets for Lil’ Stars programs.
For schedules, ticket prices, and dome movie information, take a look at the Nature Center’s website. Tickets for some shows are sold by telephone only.
The James E. Richmond Science Center offers two types of shows. Sky Shows are free and include a sky tour, astronomy trivia break, dome movie previews, and door prizes. These family-friendly shows are quite popular, so pre-registering online is a good idea. Dome Shows take place on select Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. You’ll enjoy a brief sky tour, a short film, and a longer feature film.
There is an admission charge for guests aged four and older. Visit the Science Center’s website for schedules and film trailers.
If you happen to be in western Maryland on one of Frostburg State University Planetarium’s Science Saturdays, you’re in for a treat. This well-appointed planetarium, located in the Gira Center for Communication and Information Technology, is a hidden gem. The planetarium’s seats recline so that you can look at the dome in comfort, and there’s plenty of leg room. Science Saturday shows begin at 5:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. The show includes a sky tour, a discussion of the latest space news, and a dome movie. Admission is free.
Allow plenty of time to walk down the steps and go around to the front of the building. The planetarium entrance just inside the main door. Check the planetarium’s website for Science Saturday dates.
Are There More Planetariums in Maryland?
Yes! Several planetariums, including Towson University’s Watson-King Planetarium, the Ausherman Planetarium at Frederick County Public Schools’ Earth and Space Science Lab, and the William Brish Planetarium in Hagerstown, offer public shows during the school year.