Take a Trip and Visit your Neighborhood Planetarium

UWM’s Olson Planetarium Has Expanded its Public Programming

Nov. 7, 2016
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A trip to a planetarium can be a surprisingly relaxing endeavor. It offers a comfortable and deep-set chair, calm and reassuring darkness, and an hour or so to power down your phone and contemplate the vastness of the universe. Add a little rock-n-roll and some free pizza and it’s a prime spot to ride a good buzz or just get in a little afternoon break from reality. On November 13, the Manfred Olson Planetarium, located in the Physics Building on the UWM campus, 1900 E Kenwood Blvd., will celebrate its 50th anniversary with “Rock and Rockets,” a 1960s-themed stargazing party. Each show will feature a ’60s-heavy soundtrack with video highlights of the era’s most iconic moments.

The planetarium projector sits beneath a 30-foot dome covered in a concave movie screen. Using a series of lenses and prisms, an arc of light bounces through the device – which looks every bit like a world-destroying laser from an old movie – to project a detailed reproduction of the night’s sky above. Built near the height of the Space Race, the planetarium was named for Dr. Manfred Olson, who died shortly after the facility opened to the public. Olson was the first lecturer at the planetarium and spent the final years of his long career – which included vital work on the development of the Geiger counter –  at UWM.


Initially, the planetarium was intended primarily for use by students and private groups. More recently, however, public shows have opened up access to the facility. Dr. Jean Creighton, who became directory of the planetarium in 2007, made it a goal to increase awareness and public use of the facility. Creighton instituted the Friday Night Show, a public program with a rotating topic. Through December 16, the program is focused on the mystery and majesty of the northern lights (Friday nights at 7 p.m., $4). The planetarium has also added Astrobreak, a similar program held on Wednesday afternoons (12:15-12:45, free), and Stargazing, an evening program on the observation roof of the building (see this page for more info).

The Rock and Rockets event is the first of its kind at the planetarium. In addition to snacks and the ’60s-themed show, there will be a display on the history of the facility and a presentation on the history and science of rockets. Era-inspired faux cocktails will also be served. The program runs from 3:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, November 13, with stargazing shows at 3:00, 3:45, and 4:30. 


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