This wonderful attraction sits within the campus that also houses the Field Museum and the Shedd Aquarium at 1300 S. Lake Shore Drive. We’d taken the # 146 bus from Downtown which deposited us within 100 yards of the main entrance. The planetarium juts out into Lake Michigan and has recently undergone a substantial face lift which included the addition of more technologically advanced systems as well as an expansion due to ever-growing numbers of visitors.
There was a reasonably long queue to get in but the ticket kiosk seemed pretty capable and within a few minutes we’d paid our fee and in we went. The main exhibition area is quite staggering in its portrayal of space exploration, our solar system and the universe in general with many interactive models and static displays such as the Mars Rover vehicle and chunks of Moon rock as brought back by the various Apollo missions in the early 1970s. As someone who fervently followed America’s space program at this time, I was delighted to see the collection of personal memorabilia such as mission badges, baseball caps, and documents that were permanently donated to the planetarium by James Lovell, one of the astronauts who successfully brought Apollo 13 back to Earth after a catastrophic on-board explosion virtually destroyed the life support systems back in 1970.
Something that many folk fail to appreciate is the scale of the objects that make up our galaxy and this is addressed by way of several displays depicting our Earth compared to Jupiter, then the Sun, then some of the solar giants that inhabit the Milky Way galaxy. It is quite thought provoking and somewhat awe-inspiring to say the least and I found myself lingering at these exhibits for quite some time.
The planetarium also features regularly changing special exhibits and the one we had come to see was "The Ancient Egyptians", a wonderfully executed and highly accurate dark-room presentation of how the Egyptians mapped the sky, used it to plan their calendar for crop growing and the like, and in particular, how they noticed the movements of certain "stars" which they later attributed to the fact that the sun was centre of the solar system rather than the Earth.
The presentation involves the use of a hugely complex Zeiss projector which "throws" the night sky onto the inside of the blackened dome as you relax in the very comfortable reclined chairs whilst listening to the narrative.
Other popular exhibits include the "Shoot for the Moon" display that chronicles the story of lunar exploration and "Mission Moon" where youngsters can experience the dangers and exhilaration of actually walking on the Moon via interactive displays.
On site is a busy restaurant selling reasonably priced rolls and wraps as well as soft drinks and coffee, with a good view across the lake and also as far as the Downtown skyline.
There is a hugely varied range of entry fees according to the number of special shows you want to take in but the dearest ticket to see everything is around $28 which I thought to be good value, given the range and quality of the exhibits. This is a great half-day’s entertainment and one where it was plain to see that the adults were as spell-bound as the younger visitors
Tel. (312) 922-7827 www.adlerplanetarium.org.
Get here by bus services #146, 127 and 12 from Downtown, nearest El stop is at Roosevelt/Wabash on the Brown and Green lines.