May 30, 2024

Discovering the Universe With an Interactive Planetarium

Discover the Universe with an Interactive Planetarium is a professional development conference for anyone who leads live, interactive planetarium programs. Whether you teach in a portable dome or a fixed digital system, LIPS has something for you.

Explore the vast scale of our Universe with Coyote, an amusing character adapted from Native American oral traditions, in this enchanting planetarium presentation.

Space Shuttle

Designed as an introductory planetarium model, the Orbiter is the ideal way to explore basic astronomical concepts like the Earth’s rotation around the Sun, the reason it takes one day for the sun to rise and another for it to set, and how the Moon’s orbit around the earth causes phases. Includes a lighted or unlighted model and instruction book.

For 30 years, NASA’s Space Shuttle—formally the Space Transportation System, or STS—was the main method for transporting people to and from space. It was a powerful machine, but also dangerous. Its two major components were the orbiter and the shuttle carrier aircraft, known as a Space Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA). The five orbiters—Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour—flew 135 missions; two, Columbia and Challenger, were lost during accidents.

The five still flying orbiters are now all at museums, with the exception of Enterprise, which never flew into space and was built only for testing purposes. This year, the IPS launches a new program called “Phantom of the Universe”—an immersive planetarium show that explores dark matter, from its first hints at existence in the Big Bang to its anticipated discovery at the Large Hadron Collider. The show is already appearing in more than 600 planetariums worldwide. It will be available on our IPS eStore in the fall of 2017. Read more about the show here.

SpacePark360: Geodesium Edition

The full 38 minute show or 9 individual rides (depending on your choice of format) recreates the experience of amusement park thrill rides — roller coasters, pendulums, inverters — with heart-pounding immersive planetarium effects. Take a ride from the tops of Jupiter’s clouds to Neptune’s frozen moon Triton.

Each individual ride begins on the bridge of a futuristic spaceship that is transporting the audience to the next destination in the solar system, and then the doors iris open and away they go! The individual rides are stylistically compatible, and each one ends with an extended finale sequence that segues into the final ride, Diablo. Licensing the entire show provides more options for scheduling and for programmers who want to provide a bit of relief for budgets that may be stretched.

Polaris is a playful story combining pedagogy and astonishing 3D effects. It addresses many astronomical concepts, including planetary types, rotation and ice content of the planets, and introduces the scientific method.

The show is accompanied by a detailed Educator’s Guide. This fulldome production is a Kika Silva Pla Planetarium production, and was originally developed at Chabot Space & Science Center.


Millions of asteroids and comets lurk among the planets, leftover bits from the solar system’s formation four billion years ago. They are dangerous cosmic shooting galleries, whose impacts still shape the surfaces of planets and moons. But they also present a unique opportunity to explore the planets and their rings, atmospheres, moons, and rings with spacecraft, telescopes, and the best of Earth’s observatories.

The best way to see meteors is to be out on a dark night with an unobstructed view of the sky. Several meteors per hour can usually be seen, especially during a meteor shower. A meteor is a small body of rock or metal that gets sucked up into the Earth’s atmosphere, where friction causes it to heat up and glow, often creating what we think of as a shooting star. The brightest meteors are sometimes called bolides or fireballs.

In this program, created by Kika Silva Pla Planetarium for fulldome theaters, you will learn about the nature of meteors and meteor showers. You will discover what causes them and how to predict when you can expect a meteor shower. You will also find out how a meteor is different from a comet or asteroid, and what kinds of things can make a meteor streak across the sky. You will even learn about the famous meteorite that landed in Siberia on Feb. 15, 2013.

Coyote’s Cosmos

While most Planetarium shows are astronomy-oriented, the dome is also used to explore other fields of science, and we’ve worked with experts from The Lawrence to develop programs about ocean literacy and the gene-editing tool CRISPr. We are currently working with UC Berkeley researchers and educators on another project exploring the universe of colors—from a rainbow to a monstrous black hole.

In addition to these cosmological lessons, Coyote stories teach about the interconnectedness of living things on Earth, large and small. The planetarium’s latest original show, Habitat Earth, dives into this tangled web with stunning visualizations of the natural world—from kelp forest ecosystems to giant trees rooted in fungi to the tussle between humans and whales.

For many Hupa, Yurok, and Karuk tribes in Northwestern California, Coyote stood at the heart of their entire oral tradition. It is he who infuses the world song, fills the skies with stars, and stands with humanity as our protector. In this sense, Coyote defies classification and teaches that the nature of reality cannot be understood or circumscribed with words.

In addition to our own astronomy staff, we rely on student volunteers from The Lawrence to lead space explorations under the dome. New students shadow current presenters to learn the ropes and extensively practice presenting shows, “driving” the Planetarium from behind the control center, and fielding questions from visitors.