Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum

adler planetarium and astronomy museum

The Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum was the first planetarium in the Western Hemisphere and is the oldest in existence today. Dedicated a National Historic Landmark in 1987, Philanthropist Max Adler created the project in an attempt to contribute to the rich cultural opportunities available to Chicago citizens. His goal was to remind people that under the universe we are all inter-related. In essence, he wanted to bring the stars closer to home. And that he did.

Opened to the public in 1930, the Planetarium became part of Chicago’s Museum Campus, and quickly began to draw crowds from all over. Located on the grounds of the 1933 World’s Fair, the institution was one of the most exciting features of the exposition. On opening night, light from the star Arcturus was converted into electrical signals, sent to the Adler and used to light up the fair grounds. The spectacle was unlike anything anyone had seen before, and solidified the Adler Planetarium’s place in history.

If you want to get in on the action at the Adler, there’s no shortage of activities for kids and adults alike. The 35,000 square foot space holds several permanent exhibitions, as well as traveling exhibitions. Through December 31, 2010 the Adler will be celebrating the 400th anniversary of its first use for astronomical observation with an exhibit entitled Telescopes: Through the Looking Glass. Permanent exhibits include CyberSpace, From Night Sky to the Big Bang, Our Solar System, Shoot for the Moon, the Space Visualization Laboratory, and Universe in Your Hands. Each exhibit explores a different aspect of the universe, whether it’s letting you drive a rover examining Mars, or teaching you about the time in history when people believed the Earth to be the center of the Universe.

The facility also features three full-size theaters: The Sky Theater, the Universe Theater and the Definiti Space Theater.

The Sky Theater allows visitors to view accurate reproductions of every movement of the night sky, projected onto the dome of the historic Zeiss Planetarium theater. Watch in awe as The Big Dipper and Orion move about you in this incredible space. While the Sky Theater shows you what the night sky looks like from down below, the Universe Theater provides an unreal 3D outer space experience. Imagine yourself whizzing through space, passing satellites and moons as you go. The Universe Theater will take you there!

The Definiti Space Theater produces a virtual reality experience, using a completely digital full-dome video environment powered DigitalSky 2 software. I could go into more nerdy detail about how this unique video experience works, or I could just tell you it’s pretty damn cool and you should see it for yourself.

If you’re interested in checking out the theaters, be sure to get one of the extended passes. The Galaxy Package includes one show, while the Universe Package includes unlimited shows. If you’re making a day of it, I suggest you go for the Universe Package, as the shows really are quite fascinating and well-done. Both packages include the choice of the Historic Atwood Sphere Experience or a special guided tour.

One of the most important attractions at the Adler is the The Doane Observatory. Home to the largest aperture telescope available to the public in the Chicagoland area, it gathers over 5,000 times more light than an unaided human eye. Ever wanted to see a star that’s a trillion miles away? With the Doane, you can. The moon is so bright through the telescope that filters need to be put on it so the light doesn’t hurt our eyes. Located just behind the main Planetarium building, this facility is only available to the public at certain times, such as during Adler After Dark and for special observation events like eclipses and comet watches.

The Doane is a cool place to search out planets or specific stars in the night sky. I’m not gonna lie; a high school boyfriend of mine once bought me a star for Valentine’s Day. (Note to future boyfriends: I already have a star, so cross that off your list of cheesy gift ideas and move on to the personalized candy hearts.) I kid you not, there is a burning ball of fire somewhere in the sky with the name Jacqueline Clark Berkery. He always told me he’d take me to the Doane on some romantic outing to find my star. Yeaaah… that never happened. But I digress…

Even for those of you lowly folks who don’t have stars named after yourselves, you can still enjoy the many attractions that the Doane Observatory offers, including the newly instated Adler After Dark. Initiated in Ocotober 2009, the program is a 21+ event that takes place every third Thursday of the month. Young Chicagoans are invited to come nibble on appetizers and sip cocktails with the Chicago skyline at their backs, while mingling and taking in the exceptional facilities of the Planetarium. Adler After Dark is the only time you can take a look through the Doane Observatory telescope, the largest of its kind in the Midwest. Groups are welcome, and hey — it might even make a good first date.

Come March 2010, the Adler’s former Milky Way Galaxy gallery will be the home of a new 8,000 square foot exhibition, featuring a two-story rocket, space station, and even a new planet to discover. As part of the $35 million Lift Off! Campaign, this project — plus a lot more exciting things — will be coming to Chicago’s famous Adler Planetarium soon, so keep an eye out!

If you’re looking for a more unique or intimate Planetarium experience, be sure to check out the various events that are regularly held at the space, including private events for large or small groups.

Basic Info:
Address: 1300 S. Lake Shore Drive
Phone: (312) 922-7827

Getting There:
Bus: #146
Driving: From Lake Shore Drive, exit at 18th Street. Follow Museum Campus Drive around Soldier Field. Cash only parking.
For more detailed directions, click here.

Admission Hours & Prices:

Weekdays 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Weekends 10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Adler After Dark Thursdays 6 p.m – 10 p.m.

General Admission Galaxy Package Universe Package

General Public $10.00 $19.00 $25.00
Chicago Residents $8.00 $17.00 $23.00
Kids (Ages 3-14)
General Public $6.00 $15.00 $21.00
Chicago Residents $5.00 $14.00 $20.00


Jackie Berkery

About Jackie Berkery

With a strong phobia of cubicles and those three little words (“nine to five”), I am thrilled to be working on UPchicago from the comforts of my own couch at three o’clock in the morning. I love to write. I love Chicago. Hello, dream job!

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