If your grade schooler’s nightly moon observation log has the whole family waxing and waning for a chance to go stargazing, choose from this constellation of area planeteria and observatories where kiddo’s exclamations of amazement and the glare of city lights are rarely a problem. No longer reserved for school field trips, a visit to these dome shaped destinations transports your little Galileo straight to the Milky Way.
Photo: Fabrizio Furno via Flickr
David M. Brown Planetarium
Run by the Arlington Public School System, this little nebula offers the monthly Stars Tonight program typically the first Monday of the month, each time highlighting the celestial changes over the last 30 days for young astronomers to follow. In addition, find time for a family date night under the stars with a trio of weekend planetarium shows about volcanoes, a trip through the solar system, and space encounters through the eyes of Magic Tree House characters Jack and Annie.
1426 N. Quincy St. (Arlington, Va)
National Air and Space Albert Einstein Planetarium
An attraction at one of Smithsonian’s busiest museums, the planetarium at Air and Space features an enhanced digital format and new shows for all ages. Every Friday and Sunday morning at 10:30 am, pre-schoolers enjoy an introduction to the sun and stars with Big Bird, while other programs delve deeper into the life cycle of stars, or “What’s New in Space” a weekly lecture series in the planetarium Mondays at 10:30 am. Also just outside the museum, is the Public Observatory open Wednesday through Sunday from Noon to 3 pm, in addition to nighttime constellation seeker sessions on select dates.
600 Independence Ave., SW
Maryland Science Center Davis Planetarium
Learning about astronomy at the planetarium is great, especially at a hands-on fun spot like theScience Center in Baltimore, but how about a laser lights and music. Check the schedule at Davis planetarium for occasional showings featuring the Beatles or Led Zeppelin, in addition to regular star show topics from black holes to aliens. Daily midday showings of Big Bird’s One World, One Sky are also available. Got a few night owls on your hands? Bring them to the science center for free access to the rooftop observatory each Friday evening. Check the website too for sungazing on Saturdays and special events like eclipse viewings.
601 Light St. (Balimore)
Photo: William via Flickr
Rock Creek Park Planetarium
Young constellation hunters age four and up are best to bring along on a trip to the Rock Creek Nature Center’s planetarium with two free weekly programs Saturdays and Sundays, and a Monday afternoon show recommended just for the younger set. Rock Creek’s Rangers also offer a nighttime stargazing experience, Exploring the Sky on select Saturday evenings with free access to telescopes for any interested astronomer.
5200 Glover Rd., NW (Rock Creek Park)
Montgomery College, Takoma Park Planetarium and Rockville Observatory
The series of public lectures at the Takoma Park planetarium are almost always followed by a party, and not the kind on fraternity row, but one this community college offers its neighbors as part of an astronomical tradition of knowledge sharing and fun. Setting up two powerful telescopes outside, weather permitting, planetarium staff are available to guide your way as to all matters celestial. Inside the dome, show topics range from how stars are born to Mayan calendars. Head to the Rockville campus for a night among the stars at the Astronomical Observatory where faculty and student members of MC Stargazers answer questions about the universe. Note: Reservations are encouraged, and children under five are not permitted.
Montgomery College Planetarium
7600 Takoma Ave. (Takoma Park)
Montgomery College Observatory (Roof of Science Center)
51 Mannakee St. (Rockille, Md)
Howard B. Owens Science Center Planetarium
An educational resource for Prince Georges County Schools, the Owens Science Center boasts the largest dome in Maryland, where it hosts Friday Night at the Planetarium, themed presentations appealing to all ages. Free family programs on select dates include hands-on STEM activities, live animals and special guests, in addition to seeing stars. The older astronomy junkies in your brood may go for events called Planetarium Patty’s Plaza featuring speakers on different topics such as the upcoming Searching for Signs of Life.
9601 Greenbelt Rd. (Lanham)
Photo: George Mason University
George Mason University Observatory
For the slightly more heady astronomer aged 5 and up, take advantage of this observatory’s free bimonthly Evening Under the Stars presentations which begin with 30 minute accessible lectures by local scientists passionate about their research, and end with a telescope session on the roof. Plan ahead by checking the website for any weather related change of date.
4400 University Dr. (Farifax, Va)
While its home base at Observatory Park in Great Falls, Virginia undergoes restoration including installation of a rolltop observatory, this organization sponsors a limited schedule of public observing programs at Baron Cameron Park in Reston, keeping careful note of an astronomical events calendar for the year tracking planetary movements and anticipated meteor showers. Children of all ages are welcome, but always check the website for weather changes and a description of where to find the stargazers.
11300 Baron Cameron Dr. (Reston, Va)
Have you checked out any of these cool planetariums? Tell us about it in the comments section.