It may be the coldest and darkest time of year, but you don’t have to brave the elements to enjoy the winter night sky.
Thanks to planetarium shows playing across the Carolinas, you can take a virtual tour of the heavens and more – no matter what the weather – all from the cushioned comfort of your seat.
As soon as you take your seat under the planetarium dome, the lights go off, the ceiling melts away, and the entire surface of the dome turns into a giant panoramic screen that fills your field of view – all in 16-megapixel resolution with explosive surround sound.
Here are some of the best places to see planetarium shows in the Carolinas this season:
At the University of South Carolina at Aiken, the Ruth Patrick Science Education Center’s DuPont Planetarium has a series of one-hour shows. Playing through the end of January: At “Ancient Sky Lore,” learn how to find stars, planets and constellations and hear star stories from ancient cultures in a live show (7 p.m. Saturdays); at “Digistar ‘Laser’ Fantasy” (8 p.m. Saturdays), enjoy soothing music, dancing shapes and a tribute to American astronauts in a laser-like program. On clear evenings, the observatory is opened after each showing. (Children younger than 4 not permitted in the planetarium.)
Admission: $4.50; $3.50 for seniors; $2.50 for students ($1 extra for “Digistar”); discount for military and college students with ID. 471 University Parkway. Details: 803-641-3654; http://rpsec.usca.edu/planetarium.
Head to the University of North Carolina’s Morehead Planetarium and Science Center for weekend programs on the 60-foot surface of Morehead’s full-dome theater. Showing through Feb. 24: Experience a rocket launch from an astronaut’s perspective, float around the International Space Station and learn about the dangers of space travel, from extreme temperatures to flying space debris, in “Astronaut” (1:30 p.m. Saturdays); “Galileo: The Power of the Telescope” takes you back to Pisa, Italy, to witness Galileo’s earliest experiments with gravity and the laws of motion, share his greatest discoveries and learn how one man can shape the future of science (2:30 p.m. Saturdays); “Carolina Skies” (3:30 p.m. Sundays) teaches how to identify the planets and stars currently making up the night sky via a guided tour on the planetarium dome. At “Carolina Skies,” one of the longest-running shows at Morehead, a live presenter answers on-the-spot questions from the audience.
Admission: $7.25; $6 for students (any age with ID) and 65 and older. 250 E. Franklin St. Details: 919-962-1236; www.moreheadplanetarium.org.
Visit the Jimmy R. Jenkins Science Center at Elizabeth City State University at 6 p.m. on Jan. 23 for a laser show, a film tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. and a guided tour of our solar system under the planetarium dome. (Check the website for other programs.)
The 150-seat James H. Lynn Planetarium at the Schiele Museum of Natural History has several shows. Discover what you can see in the winter sky with binoculars and small telescopes without leaving your backyard, in “Nightwatch” (3:30 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays); in “Voice of the Night: American Indian Star Legends,” learn star lore from the Cherokee and Catawba and a few other cultures (January-February only; 3:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays; 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Sundays).
Admission: $3 per person with museum admission ($7; $6 for 65 and older, students (any age with ID) and ages 4-18; Gastonia residents’ discount available. 1500 E. Garrison Blvd. Details: 704-866-6900; www.schielemuseum.org.
Visitors to the 40-foot dome of the OmniSphere Theater at the Natural Science Center of Greensboro have several programs (for show times: www.natsci.org/events/calendar/index.shtml). In “Wildest Weather in the Solar System,” witness weather extremes on other planets, including magnetic storms on the sun, methane showers on Titan, and anticyclones on Jupiter; travel back in time millions of years in “Sea Monsters” to meet the underwater dinosaurs; in “Ultimate Wave: Tahiti,” join surfing champions in Tahiti as you explore the hidden forces shaping ocean waves.
Tickets: $3 or $5, in addition to center admission ($8; $7 for ages 3-13 and 65 and older). 4301 Lawndale Drive. Details: 336-288 3769; www.natsci.org.
Fridays at 7 and 8:15 p.m., the Hooper Planetarium at the Roper Mountain Science Center shows “Chasing Celestial Mysteries”: Travel to Hawaii to learn about the research underway at the observatories on Hawaii’s dormant Mauna Kea volcano; find out how scientists detect supernovae and explore near Earth asteroids. It’s followed by a live planetarium tour of the night sky and free telescope viewing at the Daniel Observatory (weather permitting).
Admission: $5; $4 for 12 and younger and 60 and older. 402 Roper Mountain Road. Details: 864-355-8900; www.ropermountain.org.
Through Feb. 3, several shows are playing at the 65-seat Millholland Planetarium at the Catawba Science Center. In “Fire in the Sky,” learn fascinating facts about meteorites and their impact on Earth (2:30 p.m. Tuesdays; 1:30 p.m. Fridays, 10:30 a.m. Saturdays); take a look at the stories and legends about the constellation Orion in the one-hour laser show “Legends of the Night Sky – Orion” (2:30 p.m. Wednesdays; 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Sundays); in “Seasonal Stargazing,” take a live tour of the current night sky over the Catawba Valley (3:30 p.m. Fridays; 3 p.m. Saturdays; 3:30 p.m. Sundays); get-up to-date on topics from Mars and Jupiter to the space program to the structure of the universe in “Infinity Express” (2:30 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays; 1 p.m. Saturdays; 1:30 p.m. Sundays).
Admission: $3. Discount combination with center admission available. 243 3rd Ave. NE. Details: 828-322-8169; www.catawbascience.org/planetarium.html.
Rock Hill, S.C.
Through April, the Settlemyre Planetarium at the Museum of York County is hosting several shows: “Two Small Pieces of Glass” explores how astronomical telescopes evolved from the simple glass lenses used by Galileo all the way to the Hubble Space Telescope – and peek into the future instruments that could discover Earth-like worlds and see almost to the beginning of time (3:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays); in “Legends of the Night Sky – Orion,” hear tales of the voyages and battles of Orion the Hunter, the mythological character behind one of the most familiar constellations in our winter sky (11 a.m. Saturdays); learn to identify constellations and planets in “Carolina Skies,” a live, guided tour of the night sky under the planetarium dome (2 p.m. Saturdays).
Planetarium programs are free with museum admission: $5; $4 for 60 and older; $3 for ages 4-17. 4621 Mount Gallant Road. Details: 803-329-2121; http://chmuseums.org/planetarium-myco.
Head to Horizons Unlimited’s 70-seat Margaret C. Woodson Planetarium the third Saturday of each month for a show. “Starry Winter Nights” is a seasonal tour of the night sky under the 30-foot planetarium dome where you’ll learn to identify constellations and bright stars and hear stories from various cultures (5 and 6:30 p.m. Jan. 19); “Daughter of the Stars,” retells Native American legends about the sky and its stars (5 and 6:30 p.m. Feb. 16).
Tickets go on sale 30 minutes prior to each show: $3; $2 for 12 and younger. 1636 Parkview Circle. Details: 704-639-3004; www.rss.k12.nc.us/index.php/Departments/Horizons/category/planetarium.
Every Friday and Saturday, the 80-seat Ingram Planetarium at the Museum of Coastal Carolina offers several shows, each followed by a live guided tour of the night sky on the planetarium dome. Find out what it’s like to be an astronaut and see the many perils that lurk in space in “Astronaut” (1 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays); in “Dynamic Earth,” ride on swirling ocean and wind currents, dive into the heart of a hurricane, and fly into a volcano as you explore the inner workings of Earth’s climate system (2 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays ); learn about weather on Earth and on other planets from cartoon characters in “The Zula Patrol: Under the Weather” (recommended for 9 and younger; 3 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays); in “Tales of the Maya Skies,” journey to the ancient jungles of Mexico and discover the civilization of the Maya and their astonishing astronomical achievements, including the Mayan long calendar that ended in December 2012 (4 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays).
Admission: $8; $6 for 60 and older and students; $4 for ages 3-4. 7625 High Market St. Details: 910-575-0033; www.museumplanetarium.org.
Show times vary at the SciWorks Planetarium; for daily schedules, call 336-767-6730. Now playing: Join a young boy as he helps a pair of extraterrestrials figure out why their world does not have seasons (and why Earth does) in “The Mystery of the Missing Seasons” (geared to grades 2-5); take an in-depth look at Mars, from its mythological and science-fiction past to its current exploration and future possibilities, in “The Mars Show”; search for clues to why the dinosaurs became extinct in “The Case of the Disappearing Dinosaurs”; in “The Winter Sky Tour,” take a tour of the cold-weather sky – including stars, constellations, and video footage of the planets – under the 50-foot planetarium dome. Note: SciWorks is closed Mondays.
Planetarium shows are free with SciWorks admission: $11; $9 for 62 and older and ages 4-19. 400 W. Hanes Mill Road. Details: 336-767-6730; www.sciworks.org.