Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Rainy Day Nature: Planetariums in the DC Area

Some friends of ours are making an effort to learn a little astronomy, since their four year old seems to be taking a natural interest in the stars and planets (hi Solomon!). But it's awfully chilly to be outside at night right now, even if the darkness does start nice and early. Which led us to say, hey, aren't there a couple of planetariums around DC? Turns out, there's more than a couple.

illustration outside the Rock Creek Park planetariumWe've been to the one in the Rock Creek Nature Center (5200 Glover Road, NW; 202-895-6070). It's a small 75-seat space but the rangers do a nice job of putting together a variety of programs. In general, they have the following schedule of 45-60 minute, age-rated shows (check this week's exact topics here):
  • Saturdays and Sundays at 1:00: ages 5+
  • Saturdays and Sundays at 4:00: ages 7+
  • Wednesday afternoons at 4:00: ages 4+
Tickets to Rock Creek Planetarium shows are free and can be picked up at the information desk in the Nature Center a half hour before the show.

einstein planetarium ticketsThere's also the Einstein Planetarium at the Air and Space Museum (1-877-932-4629). With a 70-foot dome and 233 seats, it's a totally different experience from the planetarium at Rock Creek Park. Their website touts that "you'll feel the sensation of zooming through the cosmos, enveloped in color saturated moving images and spine-tingling sound." They offer 25 minute shows every half hour, from 11:00 to 5:00.  Tickets for these shows are $8.75 for adults, $7.25 for youth. But there are also FREE shows at 10:30 AM on selected days, including Saturdays (see schedule).

In addition to the two planetariums we knew about, we were surprised to discover that several local school systems have planetariums. These are used primarily for school groups, but also offer programs for the public. 

Prince George's Howard B. Owens Science Center in Lanham (9601 Greenbelt Road; 301-918-8750) has a 55-foot dome with 174 seats -- the largest planetarium in Maryland. Public programs are on the first Friday of every month during the school year. Tickets are $4 for adults and $2 for students and seniors. (Power Point slide of this spring's programs here.)

Arlington's 70-seat David M. Brown Planetarium (1426 N. Quincy St.) offers a kid-oriented public program on Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons during the school year (it appears to be the same show every time; see schedule).  They also hold a program on the first Monday of the month that focuses on the current night sky and includes an interactive talk with the planetarium director, followed by the opportunity to use outdoor telescopes if weather permits. Tickets for all events are $3 for adults, $2 for children and seniors.

At 24 feet wide and just 42 seats, the Montgomery College planetarium (about 7651 Fenton Street; see directions) is pretty tiny. But it was an exciting find, since it's right down the street from us! It's open to the public for free shows once a month or so during the academic year, on Saturday nights at 7:00 (see schedule). Compared to several other planetariums, the show topics appear to be more adult-oriented (Space-Time Invariance and Quantum Gravity, anyone?). Shows are followed by the opportunity to use telescopes outdoors, weather permitting.

Even smaller, the Alexandria planetarium at TC Williams High School (3330 King St., 703-824-6805) has just 35 seats available, so they require advance registration for their monthly hour-long shows (see schedule).

Have you been to any of the shows at these planetariums? Leave a review in the comments section -- it'll take us a while before we make it to all of them!

Like the photos in this post? Mouse over for credits; a click takes you to the photographer on Flickr.