Have you ever visited a planetarium? We’d only been inside a three-metre inflatable version, where we saw a show on a French campsite last summer. So when we were invited to see Asteroid: Mission Extreme at the Peter Harrison Planetarium, in Greenwich, London, we were interested to see what the ‘real thing’ was like.
A planetarium is a circular space with a dome-shaped ceiling, where films are projected. The curviness of the dome means it looks very much like a sky, so it’s well-suited for shows about space. The Peter Harrison Planetarium is heavyweight: viewers sit under a 45-ton metal cone, tilted at 51.5o to the horizontal (the latitude of Greenwich). You don’t have to worry about your mobile phone accidentally ringing during the show, as all that metal shuts down any signal. And the effects of the film on the huge dome are impressive: huge hands in space gloves loom down onto you with almost 3-D realistic effect. And the stars on the screen are magnificent: it’s just like the real night sky, only bigger, closer and sharper.
There are five films being shown at Greenwich’s Planetarium at the moment. You can usually find something for the smallest youngsters (like a show about teddy bears, the latest offering), and there are a couple of live shows too, featuring the night sky and solar system.
Asteroid: Mission Extreme is aimed at children aged seven and over. It’s narrated by Sigourney Weaver and has some good hooks to draw in younger kids: it begins with dinosaurs, and their extinction because of an asteroid hitting earth. It also references Tim Peake, and talks about how asteroids can be a way of keeping astronauts alive when they explore space. It’s full of fascinating facts that had me hooked: did you know, for instance, that oxygen and water could potentially be extracted from an asteroid by travelling astronauts?
When you watch a show at the Peter Harrison Observatory, you lie down almost flat on comfortable seats. So comfortable, in fact, that you may end up nodding off: the second half of Asteroid was enhanced by a large man snoring loudly, in the seat behind us.
At four and six years old, both our children were under the recommended age for the film. Our daughter was a little spooked (the planetarium is very dark), but our son enjoyed the experience, and, a few days on, the show has sparked some conversations about dinosaurs and space. Now that we’ve discovered the place, we’ll be keeping an eye out for future shows. Space is a popular topic in school, and the planetarium shows are a fun way to bring learning alive.
The Peter Harrison Planetarium is part of the Royal Museums Greenwich group, and as it’s next to the Royal Observatory we popped in there too. It would be very easy to visit both in one day, but as our film showing was later on in the afternoon, we didn’t have time to explore the Observatory properly (you need to allow a decent amount of time to do it justice). It’s a fascinating place, though: it stands on the Prime Meridian, which divides the worlds eastern and western hemispheres, and is the home of Greenwich Mean Time. A museum (with free audio guides) takes you through the history of timekeeping: sea clocks, talking clocks, ground-breaking telescopes and more. We’ll definitely be paying it another visit, perhaps when the children are a bit older and can appreciate all the rich history better.
Getting there: the Peter Harrison Planetarium and the Royal Observatory sit at the top of Greenwich Park, with spectacular views over London. Depending on your route, Greenwich can be reached in ten minutes from central London, and you can travel there by rail, bus, or even boat. The Transport for London journey planner can help you plan your route.
Asteroid: Mission Extreme is at the Peter Harrison Planetarium until July 2016. Tickets are £7.50 for adults, £5.50 for children, or £20 per family (2 adults, 2 children). There are two wheelchair spaces per show.
Combined tickets for the Planetarium and Royal Observatory are £12.50 for adults, £6.50 for children, or £27.50 per family. Under-5s visit free to the Royal Observatory and under-3s visit free to the Planetarium
Don’t forget to check out our guide to the best theatres for kids in London.
We were given tickets to the Peter Harrison Planetarium and the Royal Observatory for the purpose of this post. All views are my own.
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