|About the Museum:
The planetarium is open from late August until late May 20. There are exceptions though like Summer Planetarium Programs. This is an academic institution so there are a few holidays around Thanksgiving, Christmas to New Year’s day, and Spring break furlough when the entire institution is closed.
The planetarium shows 1,834 naked-eye stars, the Milky Way (the diffuse band of light caused by the disk of our own galaxy), and the five naked eye planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn) under a twenty-four-foot dome with forty-two comfortable chairs.
When calling to schedule your trip, plan for Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, or Friday, but not Wednesday.
- Kindergarten: Star Patterns – Concepts such as “near and far,” “large and small,” and similar comparisons are touched on Children at this age are very good at learning and recognizing patterns in the sky.
- First Grade: Sun Shadows – This program helps kids identify that the position of shadows cast by objects in the sun changes during the day by making an equatorial sundial out of a card with a drinking straw and a gnome.
- Second Grade: Sun-Earth-Moon Dance – This program helps kids describe revolution as movement around an object. Once the students see revolution and rotation modeled as they would appear from outside the solar system, then they are ready to view the same thing as seen from the earth, projected on the planetarium dome.
- Third Grade: Measurer’s of the Solar System – This program helps kids identify the relative position of the planets to the sun. Students can build a scale model of the solar system with the earth as a peppercorn, the sun as an eight-inch ball, and Jupiter as a chocolate-covered cherry. An outdoor walk of 1,000 yards times shows the distance between the planets correctly.
- Fourth Grade: Star Navigators – This program helps kids determine the relative position of objects in commonly used directional terms. The cardinal points of north, east, south, and west on the horizon of the planetarium will be used for this. It is also appropriate to introduce the north pole and how latitude is determined by it. The students can build an Arabic Kamal out of a 3×5 card, string, and knot for the latitude of Washington, D.C. This device also illustrates how simple some types of navigation by the stars are and clearly points out our cultures’ great, but often overlooked, debt to the Arab world.
- Fifth Grade: Newton’s Laws – This program helps kids demonstrate that any change in motion is caused by unbalanced forces (Newton’s second law), and explain that the property of inertia makes objects remain at rest or continue in motion (Newton’s first law). Both concepts can be demonstrated in the planetarium. Gravity will be discussed as the force that causes weight and circular motion (instead of straight line motion) in a planetarium program for this grade. Matter: Molecules, atoms, and various chemical properties are discussed.
- Sixth Grade: Star Light, spectra of stars – This program helps kids investigate the sun and the stars and study the concept of electromagnetism. Some physics demonstration equipment will be in the planetarium for this: a gas discharge tube of hydrogen and another of helium with plastic diffraction gratings handed our to each student for viewing the unique discrete emission spectra of these ubiquitous elements.
- Seventh Grade: Life in the Void – Three different hour-length programs are available for seventh graders with an emphasis on life science. Living in Space explores what humans have to do to adjust to weightlessness and the absence of air and a comfortable temperature. Protecting humans from too much radiation is also stressed. Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, SETI investigates how and why we are looking for alien intelligence in a vast and mostly empty universe. To search for extra-terrestrial intelligent life we are forced to think very critically about what sort of signals terrestrial intelligent life might send to the cosmos. Viking’s Search for Life on Mars reviews our effort to see if microbial life exists in the soil of the red planet. This program forces us to examine the most basic properties of the simplest organisms and to think hard about the characteristics that distinguish living things from nonliving things.
- Eighth Grade: Origin of the Solar System – In the Eighth grade the theme of the science program is the universe in change. One of the many objectives is to compare and contrast the theories governing the origin of the solar system. We can not yet see planets around other stars, but we do see dust disks around many of the younger ones. This is a very dynamic subject in which gravitational energy is transformed into rotational energy. Students will see the difference between potential and kinetic energy and what difference this makes in understanding a real scientific problem. Scientific visualization of isodensity surfaces and the evolution of rotational kinetic energy using hydrodynamics of self gravitating gas clouds is shown.
Special Programs: All evening planetarium programs include a star party after the show, if it is clear. Star party means we look at the sky with telescopes. We have a 13 inch Dobsonian, 10 inch (2540mm) Meade LX200-GPS-SMT, a 3 1/2 inch (88.9mm) Questar, and a 4 1/8 inch (105mm) Edmund Astroscan telescopes that we bring outside the planetarium when clear. Bring your telescope to the star party, and we can have even more fun sharing, the more the merrier.