Things to Do in Chicago, Illinois: Adler Planetarium
Adler Planetarium in Chicago, Illinois is not only the very first planetarium in America, but the first in the entire western hemisphere as well. Adler was funded by Max Adler, a leading Chicago business man and South Park Commissioners who agreed to absorb the cost of operations. On May 12, 1930 the remarkable planetarium opened to the public.
The mission of Adler Planetarium was to “be a classroom under the heavens” and was quite the popular attraction, drawing over one million visitors from 1933-1934 during Century of Progress World Fair. From 1935-1951, Maude Bennot was the planetarium director and thought to be the very first woman to command a major science museum. During her time as director, there were approximately 250,000 visitors per year to Adler, except during World War II when attendance declined by nearly one third. Photo: Henryk Sadura/Fotolia
It was not until the 1950’s when a not for profit fundraising committee, Chicago Planetarium Society, was formed to work in conjunction with Adler. During this time Sputnik had launched and there was new interest in our universe and the stars. Visitation increased by 100,000 and increased to over half a million in 1967. A board of trustees was also developed that year that equally shared managing Adler with the Chicago Park District.
From 1970-1973 Adler was able to add an underground level to the planetarium with funds from The Astro-Science Center, an accelerated program for gifted high school students. The addition included a theater, classrooms, a library, food service, gift shop and exhibition hall. Three years later, the planetarium became privately managed through the board of trustees.
The 1980’s were a great time for Adler as visitation increased steadily, and the 50th anniversary event brought in enough money for many new additions including the creation of McCormick Center for Young People and many new exhibits. Halley’s Comet also approach in 1985-86 and attendance at the planetarium increased dramatically. Adler underwent many other renovations and expansions throughout the next decade in their continued emphasis on education. Included in these new additions was the world’s first interactive planetarium theater that was all digital.
After 2000, Adler Planetarium added even more technology, with the help of NASA, that allowed students and visitors to be able to get daily updates from space. New programming started about the possibility of life on other planets and changed its mission to “inspire the next generation of explorers and become the world’s premier space science center.” Photo: spiritofamerica/Fotolia
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»Exhibits and Attractions
Mission Moon centers around Captain Lovell’s first steps into space. Visitors will learn all about what it took to put men on the moon, and can launch a rocket, try to save the Apollo 13 crew, and check out the inside of the Gemini Space station.
Our Solar System teaches visitors all about the planets, the stars and the Milky Way Galaxy. This highly interactive exhibit has moon rock and meteorites that can be touched and visitors can even create their own crater. One of the most exciting features in this exhibit is that visitors are welcomed to touch pieces of Mars and learn about the robot The United States has exploring our neighbor planet.
Community Design Lab turns every visitor into a research scientist with their very own laboratory. Use unconventional methods of experimentation with tools such as pipe cleaners and marshmallows to conduct research or design a telescope mount for your cell phone!
The Universe: A Walk Through Space and Time covers the history of the universe over 13.7 billion years starting with the big bang. This exhibit even breaks down how the very atoms in our bodies were created from the universe and dives into deep space through some of the worlds most advanced telescopes. Guests can even send themselves E-post cards that travel all the way to the Andromeda galaxy.
Planet Explorers is a great place for younger children from 3-8 years old. This exhibit takes small kids on space exploration through climbing, crawling and playing with many different interactive exhibits. They can also visit the space station, look for life on other planets, and try to blast off in a two story rocket.
Telescopes: Through The Looking Glass aims to teach guests the history of telescope invention and usage and how this technology revolutionized what we have been able to learn about our universe.
Clark Family Welcome Gallery is an interesting digital gallery made out of 13,000 feet of aluminum and 20,000 square yard of fabric that display video, movies, and lights that can produce 16 million colors and over 2 billion different combinations for show. The gallery is ever changing and visitors will never see the exact same show twice. This space also is home to temporary exhibits on occasion.
Astronomy in Culture examines the history of astronomy and all the different ways people in ancient cultures studied the stars. Visitors can see a medieval cannon sundial, astrolabe and armillary spheres. This exhibit is a true journey through time.
The Sky theater at Adler Planetarium is a delight to guests who can lay back and watch shows that teach about the universe. These shows feature real scientists and explorations into deep space.
Planet Nine is all about Pluto. The mysterious ninth planet that we were only just recently able to see close up in 2015 when New Horizons flew by and sent pictures back to earth. This spacecraft is still sending back pictures of the complex planet and views of this show can dive deep with explorers into the question of what the universe is still hiding from us and explore other dwarf worlds like the egg shaped rotating world we call Eris. Photo: spiritofamerica/Fotolia
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»More Exhibits and Attractions
Cosmic Wonder focuses on the stars and the ancient practice of sky charting. Learn about why the sky changes, how the stars were created, and what modern day astronomers are learning and studying.
Destination Solar System takes visitors into the future to the year 2096 where tourism in space has begun! Take a trip through the solar system and witness the wonders of the universe close at hand.
Sky Watch Live! Shows you exactly what the skies over Chicago look like without all the bright city lights obstructing the view. This is a live presentation that is guided by a speaker who will teach you how to navigate by the stars, talk about the constellations, and why the view in this show changes every day.
Welcome to the Universe is guided by a live presenter who will explore star clusters like Pleiades, our neighboring galaxy, Andromeda, and discover the secrets of the universe with viewers. From the planets to black holes, this presentation gives a high level overview of our currently knowledge of space.
One World One Sky: Big Bird’s Adventure is the perfect show for kids or fans of Sesame Street. Participants will join Big Bird and his friend Elmo on an adventure to learn about how we all see the same sky, the sun and moon, and the most well-known and seen constellation—The Big Dipper. This show included songs and dance that children are encouraged to participate in. Photo: Adler Planetarium
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»More to See
The Doane Observatory is the largest aperture telescope in the northern Illinois area. This telescope allows you to view objects in space that are trillions of miles away. Visitors can even see the sun itself on Sundays from 10am-1pm.
Historic Atwood Sphere is the oldest planetarium in Chicago and works by allowing light to shine through holes that are drilled into the metal sphere. Viewers can see the brightest stars in the Chicago night sky without use of a telescope. There are live tours offered for the Atwood Sphere to learn about the constellations that appear over the city.
Space Visualization Lab is a live working laboratory where scientists and astronomers come together to create new ways of being able to interact with the universe virtually. The lab was started in 2007 and has been one of the leading research facilities for this type of technology. Many prominent astronomers, physicists and technology engineers give lectures and presentations for viewers.
Café Galileo is the onsite café where visitors can relax and enjoy some food while viewing the Chicago skyline. The food is mostly sandwiches, soups and salads. Photo: Adler Planetarium
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»Plan Your Visit
Adler Planetarium is proud to have one of the largest collections of rare and modern books, photography, art, models, archive and historical instruments, all related to astronomy. The collections and the research library are cared for by The Webster Institute for the History of Astronomy and appointments can be made to view and research at the library. The Webster Institute is currently engaged in a lengthy project to digitalize much of the collect of celestial cartography in an effort to reach a broader audience.
Adler Planetarium offers many fun and exciting educational programs for adults and children alike to explore and learn about the universe. From early childhood hands on learning to summer camps for adolescents and over-night slumber parties, there are tons of activities for everyone.
Far Horizons is a program for teens that brings space exploration to life. Students design and implement experiments that are sent into the stratosphere on special balloons equipped for high altitude.
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Address: 1300 S Lake Shore Dr, Chicago, IL 60605, Phone: 312-922-7827 Photo:
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Things to Do in Chicago, Illinois: Adler Planetarium
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