Stellar Discoveries: Observatories in Massachusetts
Day-to-day life with kids usually exists in that finite world between home, school and the local playground, where life is pedestrian, predictable and pretty small. Maybe that’s why my kids were so wide-eyed after an evening spent stargazing at the EcoTarium’s Alden Planetarium.
“Does the universe really go on and on and on?” they asked.
I had the same reaction, and realized it had been a long time since I had looked up and really noticed the night sky.
Even if you can’t tell the difference between the Little Dipper and Orion, now is the perfect time to break out of your little world and introduce your kids to the universe.
• The Alden Digital Planetarium at Worcester’s EcoTarium puts the stars within reach. Its digital technology makes it one of the most advanced planetariums in New England. Amazing NASA and Hubble space telescope images are projected onto the dome, allowing astounding views of the heavens for city or suburbanites used to the interference of artificial light. A guide points out constellations and planets as a preview to Passport to the Universe. The program, created by the Museum of Natural History and NASA and narrated by Tom Hanks, is a 30-minute odyssey through the cosmos. As you leave the earth and journey through our solar system, out into the Milky Way and beyond, it’s mind-blowing to see just how tiny our home planet is. 22 Harrington Way, Worcester; 508-929-2700; ecotarium.org/planetarium.
• Want to look at the real thing? You’ve probably been to the Museum of Science’s Charles Hayden Planetarium, but have you ever been to its Gilliland Observatory, hidden on top of the museum’s garage? The Gilliland Observatory is open to the public every Friday from March to mid-November, from 8:30-10 p.m. 1 Science Park, Boston; 617-589-0267; mos.org.
• Clay Center Observatory at Dexter Southfield School offers free public telescope time for families on Tuesdays after sunset from April to May. 20 Newton St., Brookline; 617-454-2793; clayobservatory.org.
• Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge offers observatory nights on the third Thursday of every month (excluding June, July and August). The observatory nights are free; seating is first come, first served. 60 Garden St., Cambridge; 617-495-7461; cfa.harvard.edu/publicevents.
• The Judson B. Coit Observatory, on the roof of the College of Arts & Sciences at Boston University, offers a look at the sky through telescopes and binoculars (weather-permitting) on Wednesday nights. The hour-long free program starts at 7:30 p.m. in fall and winter and at 8:30 p.m. in spring and summer. 725 Commonwealth Ave., Boston; 617-353-2630; bu.edu/astronomy/events/public-open-night-at-the-observatory.
• Orchard Hill Observatory at the University of Massachusetts has a powerful 16-inch Cassegrain telescope. It’s open to the public on Thursdays at 7 p.m.; call to confirm. Amherst Center, Amherst; 508-265-0978; www.astro.umass.edu/~orchardhill/index.html.
• Whitin Observatory at Wellesley College offers public nights. Look through telescopes and catch an astronomy talk by a faculty member. Call or visit the website for times. 106 Central St., Wellesley; 781-283-2726; wellesley.edu/astronomy/whitin.