We were in Chicago for the 4th of July holiday and while we were excited to see the fireworks over Navy Pier, we were not excited about the increase in traffic on Michigan Avenue. Because the Adler Planetarium and the Shedd Aquarium were both within walking distance of our hotel, the Hilton Downtown Chicago, we saved both for the 4th of July holiday.
When we arrived at the Adler Planetarium, we were greeted by an astronaut, before heading inside to check-in and see our first movie: Destination Solar System. The live show and movie experience is set in the year 2096, and as an audience member, we have signed up for a quick trip around the Solar System with Space Express Tours. On our tour, we visited the moon, soared through the Asteroid Belt, explored the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, and hovered over the roiling surface of the Sun. We also saw the movie Welcome To The Universe which took us into space, exploring the Pleiades star cluster, the Andromeda galaxy, the galaxies of the Coma Cluster, and hidden wonders of the Universe.
Next we moved through the planetarium exhibits, including:
- Our Solar System: Learn about each of the pants in our solar system, touch the meteorite that crashed into Earth and left a huge crater in the Arizona desert, place your hand on a Moon rock and find out why footprints on the moon last so long, touch a piece of Mars, and learn about the robotic rover that’s been investigating the surface of the red planet since 2012.
- Mission Moon: Launch a stomp rocket, race against the clock to save the crew of Apollo 13, look inside the Gemini 12 spacecraft, and take a journey into space with NASA Captain James A. Lovell, Jr.
- The Universe: A Walk Through Space And Time: Follow the Universe from its humble beginnings and see how galaxies, stars, planets—and all the atoms in your body — were created as the Universe grew.
- Telescopes: Through The Looking Glass: See a 22 foot long antique telescope and spectacular models of the celestial objects, like the table-sized Grand Orrery, a Solar System hand-crafted from wood and brass—and find out how those models changed after telescopes brought the Universe into focus.
Historic Atwood Sphere
As we were walking through the planetarium, Brian called out for us to wait and redirected us to what he said looked like a giant Death Star — and he was right! It did look like a Death Star replica, but once we got a closer look, we realized that people were inside the giant metal sphere and that it was in fact a historic planetarium!
In the Atwood Sphere, Chicago’s oldest planetarium, you can experience the night sky over Chicago as it appeared in 1913. Although the star positions have not changed since then, we can see only a small percentage of these stars in our current night sky due to light pollution. The sphere is seventeen feet in diameter and has 692 holes drilled through its metal surface. These holes allow light to enter and show the positions of the brightest stars in the night sky.
The Atwood Sphere experience was included with our CityPASS VIP access ticket, but can be added onto any general admission or basic admission ticket for $5.00.
My kids are too old for this section of the Adler Planetarium, but if you have children ages 3-8, this may just be your favorite part of the day. In Planet Explorers, kids take the helm in this modern-day space play area where they can climb, crawl, play, and learn what it takes to be part of a mission to outer space.
The adventure begins on Earth, in an unassuming backyard with the night sky overhead. Then kids can work the controls in a two-story rocket, visit the Space Station to see how familiar things work differently in space, take a stroll through the unknown in the Planet Explorers Spacewalk Experience, and search for signs of life on the surface of Planet X.
About The Adler Planetarium
The Adler Planetarium is a public museum dedicated to the study of astronomy and astrophysics. Founded in 1930 by Max Adler, and located on the northeast tip of Northerly Island on the shore of Lake Michigan, the Adler Planetarium is the first planetarium built in the Western Hemisphere and the oldest in existence. It is part of Chicago’s Museum Campus, which includes the John G. Shedd Aquarium and The Field Museum.
The Adler Planetarium opened to the public in 1930. Architect Ernest A. Grunsfeld, Jr. was awarded the gold medal of the Chicago chapter of the American Institute of Architects for its design in 1931. It was added to the US National Register of Historic Places and designated a National Historic Landmark on February 27, 1987.
Home to three full size theaters, extensive space science exhibitions, and a significant collection of antique scientific instruments and print materials, the Adler also boasts the Doane Observatory, one of the only research-active, public urban observatories.
Learn more about the Adler Planetarium history year-by-year.
Know Before You Go
- The Adler Planetarium is located at 1300 South Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, Illinois 60605. It is part of Chicago’s Museum Campus along with the Shedd Aquarium and the Field Museum.
- Open daily from 9:30 am to 4:00 pm. Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Hours change occasionally.
- The shows are one of the best parts of the Adler Planetarium, so be sure you give yourself time to see multiple shows during your visit.
- Download a Planetarium map.
- For a nice, relaxing lunch and the best view of the Chicago skyline there’s nowhere better than the onsite Galileo’s Café, which provides a variety of freshly prepared options, including soups, sandwiches, salads, flatbreads, beverages, and desserts.
- With the Chicago CityPASS, get unlimited VIP access to all available shows, exhibitions, and experiences like the historic Atwood Sphere.