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.
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.
Illuminating Our Universe
Discover clues left by the birth of the universe and investigate how scientists measure the speed of distant galaxies and the leftover radiation from the early cosmos. Gaze at planets, stars, and the Milky Way galaxy during the stargazing portion of the program.
WI Standards for Science SCI.ESS1.A.h
Optional hands-on activities last 20 minutes and cost $40 per activity.
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
- 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
- Galaxies are large groups of stars (typically 100 billion) held together by their mutual gravitational attraction
Activity: NASA lessons on the universe
Website: Windows to the Universe information/images
Video: Science Channel: Milky Way Galaxy
Video: Space.com on time
Video: Hubble: collision of galaxies
Images: Hubble gallery of galaxies
Theme Two: The Solar System
- Overview of Solar System: 1 star, 8 planets, and many small objects
Website: NASA information
Website: Windows to the Universe information
Video: Space School: Pluto-Dwarf Planet
Video: Space School: Solar System
Video: Size perspective of the solar system
Video: 3-D perspective on the solar system
- How do we know the physical properties of planets?
Activity: NASA lesson plan: visible spectra of known elements
Website: Multiple NASA resources on Mars (Including videos, image gallery, lesson plans)
- Formation of the Solar System
Theme Three: Earth/Moon/Sun Interactions
- Rotation of the Earth: Evidence is Day and Night
Video: Kurdistan Planetarium (Earth moves in a helical motion around the Sun as it travels through our galaxy)
- Phases of the Moon
- Historical perspective: geocentric/heliocentric
- Aurora Borealis
- Solar flares
Theme Four: Constellations
- Modern 88 official constellations, Seasonal versus Circumpolar constellations, and some basic constellations
- Sky maps and stargazing
Theme Five: Life of a Star
- How do stars live?
- Stellar corpses: black holes, neutron stars
Website: Hubble information (See “Journey to Black Hole”)
Video: Space School on black holes and quasars
Video: Canada’s Perimeter for Theoretical Physics: Gravitational lensing and dark matter
Video: National Geographic Society on interstellar travel
Video: Space.com (Search “Black Hole: Warping Time and Space”)
- HR diagram
Website: Overview of HR diagram
Theme Six: Forces and Physical Properties
Video: How gravity really works
Theme Seven: Space Exploration
Theme Eight: Big Bang Theory and Cosmology
Theme Nine: Exoplanets
Website: Detection methods of exoplanets
Theme Ten: Electromagnetic Spectrum
Discussion Questions & Answers
Theme: Astronomical (Celestial) Objects in the Day and Night Sky
- Discussion Question: What does the Sun do for us?
- Answer: The Sun supports all life on earth through the process of photosynthesis. It provides us with heat and light. It powers the water cycle which creates our weather and climate. It provides us with seasonal cycles and even sleep cycles.
Theme: Earth/Moon/Sun Interactions
- True or False: The Sun, Moon, and stars are always in the same place in the sky.
- Answer: As the Earth rotates, the Sun, Moon and the 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.
- 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.
- Discussion Question: What is an eclipse?
- Answer: There are two types of eclipses: Solar and Lunar.
- Solar: Occurs when the Moon passes between the Sun and the Earth, and the Moon fully or partially blocks the Sun resulting in the Moon’s shadow falling upon the Earth. Solar Eclipses are rare and only people in a limited area are able to see a total eclipse.
- Lunar: Occurs when the Moon passes behind the Earth in its shadow. The Earth’s shadow falls on the surface on the Moon. At this time, the Sun, Earth, and Moon are aligned in a straight line with the Earth in the middle. Lunar eclipses occur on the night of a full moon.
- Discussion Question: What causes the Moon’s phases? What are the phases?
- Answer: The Moon revolving around the Earth. There are eight phases of the moon:
- New Moon
- Waxing Crescent
- First Quarter
- Waxing Gibbous
- Full Moon
- Waning Gibbous
- Last Quarter
- 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. In summer our part of the Earth is tilted toward the Sun, and in the winter we are tilted away. Oddly, the Earth is slightly farther away from the Sun when we are experiencing summer in the northern hemisphere. It is the tilt that causes the Sun to reach different heights in our sky at different times of the year and to shine for longer periods of time than others. The parts of the Earth where the Sun appears high in the sky experience summer and those where the Sun is low in the sky experience winter. Spring and fall occur when the sunlight is directly over the equator (in the middle) and neither hemisphere sees the Sun at particularly high or low positions 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 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.
- Discussion Question: Can scientists determine the distance to a star?
- Answer: Scientists use parallax to determine the distance to a star. Parallax is used to determine the angle of the star at different points in the Earth’s revolution around the Sun. We know the distance of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun and use trigonometry to calculate the distance to the star.
- Discussion Question: If the stars were evenly spaced and the universe has always existed, would the night sky be as bright as day?
- Answer: There would be no dark areas because the light would shine uniformly from space and light up the night sky.
Theme: Space Exploration
- True or False: Space exploration has changed our lives.
- Answer: Changes that space exploration has brought to our lives include:
- Medical advances like MRI, CAT scan, and kidney dialysis
- Global telecommunications enabled by satellites
- Satellites also aid in Earth monitoring to inform meteorologists, scientists studying global warming, other trends on Earth, and homeland security
- Robotics and microprocessors developed for NASA are used in our computers, cell phones, GPS, and manufacturing
- Discussion Question:S pace exploration isn’t worth all the money spent on it.
- Answers may vary. Accept all answers. Some might include the tools and procedures that were developed for missions that now have spin-offs for our daily lives. It might include protecting our planet from Near Earth Objects.
Theme: Big Bang Theory and Cosmology
- Discussion Question: According to the Big Bang Theory, the entire universe and its matter were compressed into a space about the size of an atomic nucleus and then the universe started expanding in all directions. Do you agree or disagree? Why?
- Answer: The Big Bang is the best scientific theory we have regarding the origin of the universe because we see remnant radiation from the early universe.
- True of False: There isn’t any evidence for the Big Bang.
- Answer: There is evidence of the Big Bang:
- Leftover microwave radiation
- Doppler shifted light that confirms an expanding universe
- Dark night sky confirms that the universe is not constant or eternal
- Black Holes and Other Space Phenomena, Young Observer
- The Usborne Internet-Linked Book of Astronomy and Space, Lisa Miles and Alastair Smith
- Nature Activities Star Gazer, Ben Morgan
- 1000 Facts About Space, Pam Beasant
- A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking
- Astronomy magazine
- Discover magazine