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Planetariums in the West

Forget about snoozy constellation lectures. Today's planetariums feature laser shows, animation, and music by the likes of Pink Floyd and the Beastie Boys.

Griffith Observation at sunset, picture
Photo credit
Photo: Courtesy of Matthew Field/Wikimedia Commons
Photo caption
Griffith Observatory sits on Mount Hollywood. The sweeping earthly views outside are as compelling as the celestial views inside.

Forget the days when visits to the planetarium meant dozing off to a voice droning on about constellations. Planetariums nowadays include special effects, laser technology, and state-of-the-art sound systems that reveal a galaxy that might otherwise be shrouded in cloud and city light. Some planetariums also hold laser shows where laser graphics, animation, and midair-beam displays are choreographed to music by artists such as Pink Floyd, Metallica, and the Beastie Boys. Here's a select handful.

California Alexander F. Morrison Planetarium, San Francisco—Located in Golden Gate Park's California Academy of Sciences. "Mysteries of the Millennia" highlights cosmic mysteries of the 21st century. Hour-long laser shows are performed at the Laserium. Call (415) 750-7127 for star shows; (415) 750-7138 for laser shows; or check out

Holt Planetarium, Lawrence Hall of Science, University of California at Berkeley—Sit in reclining seats to watch shows using four slide projectors and a planetarium projector. Weekends only. Information: (510) 642-5132;

Minolta Planetarium, DeAnza Community College, Cupertino—Join the Saturday Family Astronomy Shows when the planetarium presents shows such as "Magic Sky" or "Cosmic Catastrophes" followed by a question-and-answer period. Live interactive showings of the current night sky follow, and weather permitting, you'll head outside for viewing through telescopes. Information: (408) 864-8814;

Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles—Live multimedia shows are presented on its 75-foot dome, using more than 100 special effect projectors to display the sun, moon, planets, and 9,000 stars. "Planetary Alignments and Cosmic Disasters" looks at what will happen when the planets align in May. Laser shows, both 2-D and 3-D. Information: (323) 664-1191; or visit

UCLA Planetarium, Los Angeles—Narrated sky shows are offered every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Sunday. View the sky through telescopes every Wednesday after the star shows. Animal- and cartoon classic-themed music accompanies the laser shows, produced by UCLA students. Information: (310) 825-6847;

Tessman Planetarium, Rancho Santiago College, Santa Ana—A panorama system gives viewers the illusion of being in a future Martian colony, sitting on rings of Saturn, or watching the sun set over fallen snow. Shows are Monday through Wednesday, and some Fridays. Information: (714) 480-7398.

Palomar College Planetarium, San Marcos—Public Lecture Series runs the first three Fridays of each month. After the shows, view the sky through telescopes atop the Earth Science building. Reservations are advised. Information: (760) 744-1150, ext. 2833;

Nevada Fleischmann Planetarium, University of Nevada, Reno—Star shows run about an hour and a half and sky viewing is available. Join the weekly star talks at which a staff member leads an outdoor tour of the night sky. Information: (775)&bnsp;784-4811, for show; (775) 784-4812, for planetarium; or visit

The Planetarium, Community College of Southern Nevada, North Las Vegas—Shows are Friday and Saturday nights. Starting in March, "Millennium Mysteries" discusses the history of the calendar (is this the new millennium?) and "Sky Watch" focuses on recent events in the heavens. Weather permitting you'll observe the sky after the last show. Information: (702) 651-4759 (recorded) or (702) 651-4505;

Utah Hansen Planetarium, Salt Lake City—The planetarium is open daily with star and laser shows in the evenings and weekends. Check out the 3-D laser shows with U2 and Metallica hits. Information: (801) 538-2098 (planetarium) or (801) 363-0559 (laser show);

Ott Planetarium, Weber State University, Ogden—Wednesday night star shows and star parties offered. Information: (801) 626-6855;

This article was first published in March 2000. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.