We welcome your class to the planetarium. Our shows are live, interactive, and can be adjusted to meet different needs.
To reserve a program, submit a Request Form at least 2 weeks in advance of your visit.
The planetarium program costs $60 for 60 minutes and up to 68 students. You experience a live presentation that includes one of the show topics below and a tour of the night sky featuring the constellations and their stories. For an additional $40, extend your visit with hands-on activities.
Solar System Expedition
Explore the solar system and marvel at the Sun’s powerful flares, Jupiter’s swirling storms, and Saturn’s intriguing moons. Travel to the icy worlds of the Kuiper Belt and behold the latest discoveries from Juno and New Horizons. Return to Earth to gaze at the night sky as you search for constellations from the Big Dipper to Orion.
WI Standards for Science SCI.PS2.A.3, SCI.ESS1.A.5, SCI.ESS1.B.5
Explore our nearest neighbor, the Moon, and discover what causes its phases and lunar and solar eclipses. Hear about missions to the Moon, including the first manned mission in 1969. Gaze at the Moon, planets, and stars during the stargazing portion of the show.
WI Standards for Science SCI.ESS1.B.5
The Dramatic Life of a Star
Marvel at the dramatic changes of stars as they transform from stellar nurseries to exotic objects such as white dwarfs, neutron stars, and black holes. Discover how stars fused the chemical elements in our bodies. Gaze at the night sky away from city lights and witness how stars vary in brightness and colors.
Explore the cosmos on this whirlwind journey from the solar system to the farthest corners of the universe. Tour thrilling highlights of our own solar system, such as solar storms and the rings of Saturn, before heading out to visit stars and exoplanets in the Milky Way galaxy. Behold the Milky Way on a collision course with its neighbor Andromeda as you travel into the depths of space to glimpse our universe in its infancy.
Optional hands-on activities last 20 minutes and cost $40 per activity.
Solar System to Scale (Limit: 22 students)
Students are divided into groups to make a scale model of the solar system along the length of an indoor hallway. Students receive instructions about how many tiles they need between various planets. If your group is 23-44 students, you may split them between two back-to-back activity sessions for a total of 40 minutes for $80.
Star Charts (Limit: 68 students)
Students learn to use star charts to identify 6-10 constellations in the sky.
Preparing For Your Visit
We recommend introducing grade-appropriate astronomy topics before visiting the planetarium. This might range from basic constellations for younger students to atomic structures and the electromagnetic spectrum for older students. Any exposure will help your students engage more at the planetarium. See the Resource Materials section below.
Students may eat their own lunch in the cafeteria on the ground level of the UWM Union, a short walk east of the planetarium. Students are welcome to eat lunch outdoors, weather permitting.
Use the following sections to find the resource materials that are right for your class.
Theme One: Astronomical (Celestial) Objects in the Day and Night Sky
- The Sun is the closest star to us
Activity: Solar images
Activity: Solar Image Activity (Grade 8)
Video: Space school
Video: Windows to the Universe clips about the sun (Grade 8)
Video: Bill Nye The Science Guy on the Sun
Images: Views of The Solar System (Image in middle of page)
Images: Universe Today diagram of the Sun (Grade 8)
- Moon is the Earth’s only natural satellite
- Stars are big balls of gas that make their own light
- Planets (the Earth is a planet) go around stars and in our solar system they have to be big enough to form a spherical shape rather than a potato shape
- Meteors or shooting stars or falling stars are brief luminous trails observed when a small piece of rock from space enters the Earth’s upper atmosphere
Website: Meteor shower calendar
- Galaxies are large groups of stars (typically 100 billion) held together by their mutual gravitational attraction
Theme Two: The Solar System
- Overview of the solar system: 1 star, 8 planets, and many small objects in it
Activity: Students work in groups and try to recall all the information they can about the Sun and the planets; they write one fact/property/idea on a post it and put it on the appropriate poster; each group is assigned a poster to organize its facts into categories of correct, incorrect, uncertain statements for their assigned poster. For older students, they can discuss how they would check the uncertain statements. Also, we connected these properties to how the solar system formed.
Website: Kids Astronomy: Our Solar System (Grade 6)
- Characteristics/properties of different planets. How do we know the physical properties of a planet?
- Special objects such as Asteroids, Comets, Kuiper Belt objects, Oort Cloud, Dwarf Planets (such as Pluto) (Grade 5)
- Formation of the Solar System
Theme Three: Earth/Moon/Sun Interactions
- Rotation of the Earth: Evidence from Seasonal Constellations
Website: Explore a model of Earth’s daily rotation
Website: Evidence that Earth turns on an axis
Video: Earth moves in a helical motion around the Sun as it travels through our galaxy (for teachers)
- Rotation of the Earth: Evidence from Seasonal Constellations
Website: Earth revolves around the Sun
Website: Information on tides (left side of screen)
- Phases of the Moon
Activity: Lesson from MN Science Teacher Education Project
Activity: Students explore the shadows of a toothpick projected on a manila folder when a flashlight moves: Stick a toothpick into a 1″ square piece of Styrofoam. Stick the Styrofoam on the manila folder. Project the flashlight onto the toothpick. Students notice that the direction and length of shadow move. They find they can reproduce those changes even if the Sun stays stationary and the folder moves.
- Historical perspective: geocentric/heliocentric
- Aurora Borealis
- Solar Flares
Website: Multimedia NASA presentation on Solar Storms (under Monday “Learn about the Sun as a star,” Tuesday – “Drawing sunspots from an image”)
- Climate, weather, etc.
Activity: NASA Green house gases with gummies (bottom of page)
Theme Four: Constellations
- Modern 88 official constellations, Seasonal versus Circumpolar constellations, and some basic constellations
Activity: Graphing constellation coordinates from Texas Space Grant
Activity: Modeling the night sky: Zodiac constellations (Grade 6)
Activity: The Sun is a yellow Styrofoam ball in the middle of the Planetarium. The teacher is the Earth going around the Sun and the students are the stars twinkling. As the teacher moves around the Sun, he/she could see the constellations away from the Sun only.
Website: Movement of constellations across the sky
Website: Windows to the Universe information on circumpolar constellations
Website: Windows to the Universe information and multimedia on constellations
- Sky maps and stargazing
Theme Five: Life of a Star
- How do stars live?
- Stellar corpses
- HR diagram
Theme Six: Forces and Physical Properties
Activity: 4 lessons from GRACE
Theme Seven: Space Exploration
Theme Eight: Big Bang Theory and Cosmology
Theme Nine: Exoplanets
Theme Ten: Extraterrestrial Intelligence
Video: Carl Sagan on the search for extraterrestrial life
Video: Carl Sagan’s Cosmos Series (Excellent)
Theme Eleven: Electromagnetic Spectrum
Discussion Questions & Answers
Theme: Astronomical (Celestial) Objects in the Day and Night Sky
- Discussion Question: If the Sun is the largest object in the solar system, why does the Sun look so small?
- Answer: Because it is so far away.
- Discussion Question: What does the Sun do for us?
- Answer: Supports all life on Earth through the process of photosynthesis. Provides us with heat and light. Powers the water cycle which creates our weather and climate. Provides us with seasonal cycles and even sleep cycles. Stars are suns. Our Sun is the star at the center of our solar system. The Sun is orbited by planets, asteroids, and comets. Astronomers have discovered that many other stars have planets too. If we were on a planet in another solar system, the Sun would look like just another star in our sky. The Sun is considered an average sized star.
- Discussion Question: Do we always see the same side of the Moon?
- Answer: We always see the same side of the Moon because it takes about the same amount of time for the Moon to rotate as it does to revolve around the Earth. The side we don’t see is known as “the far side of the Moon.”
Theme: Solar System
- Discussion Question: What star does Earth orbit?
- Answer: The Sun
- Discussion Question: What is the shape of Earth’s orbit around the Sun?
- Answer: Earth’s orbit is an ellipse that is close to a circle with the Sun on one focus of the ellipse. Planets orbit the Sun on slightly elliptical, or oval-shaped, paths. In addition, planets closer to the Sun complete their orbits faster than planets farther away; Mercury orbits the Sun every 88 Earth days, and Neptune orbits the Sun once every 164.89 Earth-years.
- Discussion Question: What is the difference between a star and a planet?
- Answer: A star is a ball of very hot gas where nuclear fusion can occur and which produces the light that make stars shine. A planet, on the other hand, gets its light reflected from its companion star. Not all planets are made of the same material. Planets are separated into two categories: inner and outer planets. The inner planets are smaller and made of rock. The inner planets include the planets closest to the Sun: Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars. The outer planets are often called gas giants because they are very large and made of gases. The outer planets include: Jupiter, Saturn Uranus and Neptune.
- Discussion Question: What is a comet?
- Answer: Comets travel though the solar system in irregular orbits from regions beyond the orbit of Neptune. A comet is a large ball of ice and rock. Comets can be seen as they approach the Sun because the Sun’s heat melts a comet’s ice to form glowing gases that stream out into a long tail. Comets look like bright streaks in the sky.
Theme: Earth/Moon/Sun Interactions
- Discussion Question: If the Earth is moving, why don’t we feel it?
- Answer: We don’t feel it because the Earth is rotating at approximately 1000 miles per hour. We don’t “feel” that we are traveling at this speed because the Earth, our frame of reference, is traveling with us. The same is true of traveling in a car at a constant speed, unless you are looking out the window.
- True or False: The Sun, Moon, and stars are always in the same places in the sky.
- Answer: As the Earth rotates, the Sun, Moon, and stars appear to move across the sky. They rise and set. Also, the Moon orbits the Earth once a month and the Earth orbits the Sun once a year, so the Moon and Sun pass through different parts of the sky.
- True or False: An eclipse of the Sun happens when the Moon comes between the Sun and the Earth.
- Answer: During a solar eclipse, the Moon moves between the Sun and the Earth. The Moon’s shadow falls on the Earth. Solar eclipses are rare. Because the Moon is so small compared to Earth, the shadow it casts on Earth’s surface is very small. Only people in a limited area are able to see a total solar eclipse. Note: There are two kinds of eclipses: solar and lunar.
- Lunar Eclipse: Earth moves between the Sun and the moon, blocking part of the Sun’s light from reaching the Moon. During this time, you will see the Earth’s shadow on the Moon.
- Solar Eclipse: The Moon moves between the Earth and the Sun. This causes part of the Sun’s light to be blocked. The sky will get dark when this blockage occurs.
- A “Total” eclipse is when the Moon and the sun are in a perfect line. This occurrence is very rare.
- Discussion Question: What causes the phases of the Moon? What are the phases?
- Answer: The Moon’s phases are caused by two things: 1. The Moon revolving around the Earth. 2. The Moon reflecting sunlight towards the Earth. Half of the Moon is always lit, not just the portion we see; however, sometimes we only see a profile of the lit portion of the Moon. Certain phases of the Moon result depending on its orbit, and the Moon’s orbit is responsible for the phase changes we see. Since we only see the lit portion of the Moon that is facing Earth, we see a Moon phase.
- There are eight phases that the Moon goes through and they always occur in the same order. The Sun’s light seems to move from right to left across the surface of the Moon.
- The phases of the Moon are: 1. New Moon, 2. Waxing Crescent, 3. First Quarter, 4. Waxing Gibbous, 5. Full Moon, 6. Waning Gibbous, 7. Last Quarter, 8. Waning Crescent, and back to the New Moon.
- Discussion Question: Is the Sun closer to the Earth during the summer months than during the winter months?
- Answer: The Earth is not closer to the Sun in the summer. The seasons happen because the Earth’s rotation is tilted compared to its orbit around the Sun. Summer happens for us when our part of the Earth is tilted toward the Sun, and winter happens when we are tilted away. In fact, the Earth is slightly farther away from the Sun when we are experiencing summer in the northern hemisphere. The tilt causes the Sun to reach different heights at different times of the year and to be up for longer periods of time than others. Parts of the Earth that have the Sun appear high in the sky experience summer and those that have the Sun low in the sky experience winter. Spring and fall occur when the sunlight is directly over the equator (in the middle) so for neither hemisphere does the sun appear to be particularly high or low in the sky.
- Discussion Question: What are constellations?
- Answer: Constellations are patches of sky that contain a characteristic pattern of stars.
- The patterns are often named after characters from ancient Greek and Roman mythology (although individual stars have mostly Arabic names). There are 88 official constellations. Common constellations visible from Milwaukee include the Big Dipper, Gemini, Orion, and Leo (to mention a few).
- Some basic constellations that are always visible at Midwestern latitudes: Big Bear (contains Big Dipper), Little Bear, Cassiopeia; visible in Spring: Gemini, Leo; visible in Summer: Cygnus, Summer Triangle; visible in Fall: Pegasus, Andromeda; visible in Winter: Orion, Taurus Ancient people observed that the Sun, Moon, and planets always seem to move across the sky through a series of 12 constellations known as the zodiac. In particular, a person’s zodiac sign was the name of one of the 12 constellations of the zodiac that the Sun was closest to at the time of the person’s birth.
- Discussion Question: How can you tell the difference between a star and a planet in the sky?
- Answer: The stars in the sky appear to be in fixed positions with respect to each other. They can seem like they are attached to an imaginary “celestial sphere” around the Earth. Planets move in complicated paths across the sky. They exhibit a behavior called “retrograde motion” where they appear to go backwards for a period of time relative to the background stars in the celestial sphere as they move in their orbit around the Sun. Also, planets almost never twinkle.
Theme: Life of a Star
- Discussion Question: How do stars form?
- Answer: Stars are continually being formed and destroyed. Stars are formed, or born, in clouds of gas and dust in the interstellar medium. Gravity squeezes the mass of these “star nurseries” so that the centers become incredibly dense and hot. These extreme conditions allow hydrogen fusion to begin. The outward pressure from the fusion balances the inward force of gravity. The gas stops collapsing and a star is born.
- What the Sun Sees, What the Moon Sees, Nancy Tafuri
- The Magic School Bus Lost in the Solar System, Joanna Cole
- The Magic School Bus Space Explorers, Joanna Cole
- The Solar System, Cathy Imhoff
- Follow the Drinking Gourd, Jeanette Winter
- The Usborne Internet-Linked Book of Astronomy and Space, Lisa Miles and Alastair Smith
- Black Holes and Other Space Phenomena, Young Observer
- Nature Activities Star Gazer, Ben Morgan
- 1000 Facts About Space, Pam Beasant