Rocket City Mom works hard to find you fun and cost-effective ways to spend time with your family. This weekend, my sons and I explored a seriously nifty thing to do on a Saturday night.
The Von Braun Astronomical Society (VBAS) presents public shows at the planetarium on Monte Sano every Saturday night throughout the year. Topics and presenters change frequently—complete schedule here—so you can go often and get new experiences.
$5 for adults
$3 for students
Free for children under 6
And you’ll want to. We really had a fantastic time. Our presenter, Beth Bero, started promptly at 7:30. The planetarium became a star-filled wonderland, and she regaled us with tales of the constellations in the spring sky.
I confess that most constellations are a bit of a stretch for me. Oh, you say that’s a bear? Okeydokey. Then Beth pointed out that ancient peoples on opposite sides of the planet both decided it was a bear, independently of one another. I hadn’t considered that. That’s a good example of the kind of knowledge she had at the ready, with engaging and enthusiastic delivery.
We also heard the myths of Orion the Hunter, the Pleiades, Taurus, Leo, and several others, interspersed with relevant science and several handy “cheats” to find your way around the night sky.
After the hour-long show, the lights come up just enough for you to find your way out. You’ll want to keep your effective night vision, because while you’ve been inside, VBAS members have been fixing their telescopes on the wonders of the night sky for you to have a look. It was quite a thrill to look into an eyepiece and see not only Jupiter, but its four largest moons (Io, Europa, Callisto, and Ganymede). Another member had his telescope aimed at Mars, which is relatively close to Earth right now.
When Aaron asked me when I’d last been to a planetarium, I had to consider the question at some length. I finally concluded that I may have been his age—so, 34 years ago or so? I was excited to go back, and we all had a marvelous time. Our presenter and guides had obvious passion for their subjects, and the boys and I talked all the way home about what we’d seen.
One other interesting thing about this planetarium is that Dr. Werner von Braun was approached about building it during the development of the Saturn V rocket. Being a most-for-the-least sort of fellow, Dr. von Braun realized that half of a storage tank used as part of Saturn V testing would make an ideal planetarium ceiling.
And so it does. The planetarium uses that tank; therefore the planetarium is the exact circumference of the Saturn V rocket.
Early arrival is recommended for the Saturday night shows. The VBAS suggests 30 minutes before the program time of 7:30, in order to park and find a seat. In our experience, you may want to make it 45. Parking is no problem, but seating became precious in a hurry.
One further note on parking and admission: you’ll drive through the Monte Sano State Park entrance to reach the planetarium. An entrance fee is normally charged. However, if you tell the attendant you are attending a VBAS event, the entrance fee is waived.
The planetarium show is a fine experience for all ages. However, your younger children should have no issues with sitting in the dark, as that’s just what you do for most of it. Also, because seeing in the dark is so important for the show to be rewarding, light sources (like flashlights, phones, and digital camera screens) are strictly prohibited after the show starts.
(That’s also why I have no photographs of the best show content.)
You should plan to be at the planetarium for two hours or so. That may put it slightly past some little folks’ bedtimes, but equal dollops fascination and education make it well worth it.
Von Braun Astronomical Society
Monte Sano State Park
5105 Nolen Ave. SE, Huntsville, AL 35801 (map)
Cost: Adults $5, students $3, children under 6 and VBAS members free
Planetarium shows every Saturday night at 7:30 PM, arrive early for a seat