Once upon a time, the night sky told us everything we needed to know. The season of the year, the time, which direction we were facing. These days it's easy to go weeks or even months on end without really giving the night sky any notice. Our cities and towns are so brightly lit that it can be hard to see the stars even on a clear night. This is the perfect time of year to reconnect with our celestial history by visiting one of Connecticut's many planetariums and observatories. It is important to note the difference between the two, a planetarium is like a movie theater where images of the night sky are projected on a domed ceiling. Planetariums usually offer all sorts of shows aimed at various age groups. An observatory, on the other hand, is a building with a high powered telescope and sometimes other sky-gazing equipment where you can observe the actual night sky. Our great state boasts several excellent spots to encounter the stars, moons, and planets in person or on screen.
Children's Museum of Connecticut Planetarium
This planetarium opened its doors in 1968. It features a state of the art planetarium projector that projects onto a 40 foot dome. There is a rotating schedule of shows for all ages, both live and recorded. Tickets can be purchased day of up to 15 minutes prior (no later though as they need time to process before the show begins). The planetarium can seat up to 145 people. Show times are subject to change and it is recommended that you call the museum to confirm the show schedule for the day.
950 Trout Brook Drive, West Hartford, CT 06119 (860) 231-2824
Leitner Family Observatory and Planetarium
Situated on the campus of Yale University, Leitner offers both planetarium and observatory. There are regular planetarium showings using their digital planetarium theater that can "simulate the universe at any time from any place." As if that isn't enough to make you feel like a speck of dust in an enormous sea, when the weather cooperates you can witness deep space from one of the two telescopes in the observatory.
355 Prospect Street, New Haven, CT 06511 (203) 432-3000
The Discovery Museum
The Henry B. duPont III Planetarium at Bridgeport's fabulous Discovery Museum offers up shows suited to the very, very young as well as those aimed at older kids and grown ups. This planetarium is on the lower level of the museum where there is also a great space exhibit hall as well as a fun space-themed play area.
4450 Park Avenue, Bridgeport, CT 06604 (203) 372-3521
Glastonbury/East Hartford Magnet School Planetarium
One thing to know about this planetarium is that they can only do credit card transactions. You can purchase tickets at the door with a credit card, but they recommend pre-purchase. There are a few shows aimed at various age groups. Shows for kids under seven are shorter than those intended for the eight and up crowd. Doors open 30 minutes prior and seating is first come first served.
95 Oak Street, Glastonbury, CT 06033
Van Fleck Observatory
Van Fleck is an observatory only. No planetarium shows to be had here. As such, public viewing times are very much subject to the weather. A cloudy night means no telescope. That said, they do offer rain or shine space nights that include a short presentation followed by telescope viewing if the conditions allow. This is aimed at high school and above, but not to fear there are also regular kids' nights at the observatory.
96 Foss Hill, Middletow, CT 06459 (860) 685-2130
Copernican Observatory and Planetarium
Named for Nicolaus Copernicus, the Renaissance mathematician and astronomer, this observatory and planetarium sit on the campus of CCSU in New Britain. They host free planetarium shows a few times a month followed by a chance to check out the sky through their telescopes if the weather is clear. Seating is on a first-come, first served basis. The planetarium is located inside one of the campus buildings in room 211. There is free parking in the Copernicus Garage.
GPS Address: between 245 and 175 Paul Manafort Drive, New Britain, CT 06050
Explore how sailors used the sky to navigate the open sea at Mystic Seaport's Treworgy Planetarium. There are rotating planetarium shows here typically with a focus on navigation or some other sea-faring angle of the heavens. Reconnect to our ancient dependence on the stars above to orient ourselves in the universe.
75 Greenmanville Avenue, Mystic, CT 06355 (860) 572-0711
Westport Astronomical Society
On Wednesday nights from 8:00-10:00 when the sky is clear, trained volunteers guide you through the night sky with high powered telescopes. There are two telescopes, one of which is the largest available for public use. Imagine the amazing things you might spy through that lens. This event is best for older children.
182 Bayberry Lane, Westport, CT 06880
Stamford Museum and Nature Center
Kids aged six and up are invited to explore the night sky at Stamford Museum and Nature Center's planetarium shows. Learn about constellations, planets, and more.
39 Scofieldtown Road, Stamford, CT 06903 (203) 977-6521
Photo: Wikimedia Commons