Adler Planetarium

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Adler Planetarium
Adler fg02.jpg
Adler Planetarium Entry
Location1300 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, Illinois, United States
Coordinates41°51′59″N 87°36′24″W / 41.86639°N 87.60667°W / 41.86639; -87.60667Coordinates: 41°51′59″N 87°36′24″W / 41.86639°N 87.60667°W / 41.86639; -87.60667
ArchitectErnest Grunsfeld,Jr.
Architectural styleArt Deco
Governing bodyPrivate
NRHP Reference #87000819
Significant dates
Added to NRHPFebruary 27, 1987[1]
Designated NHLFebruary 27, 1987[2]
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Adler Planetarium
Adler fg02.jpg
Adler Planetarium Entry
Location1300 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, Illinois, United States
Coordinates41°51′59″N 87°36′24″W / 41.86639°N 87.60667°W / 41.86639; -87.60667Coordinates: 41°51′59″N 87°36′24″W / 41.86639°N 87.60667°W / 41.86639; -87.60667
ArchitectErnest Grunsfeld,Jr.
Architectural styleArt Deco
Governing bodyPrivate
NRHP Reference #87000819
Significant dates
Added to NRHPFebruary 27, 1987[1]
Designated NHLFebruary 27, 1987[2]

The Adler Planetarium was founded in 1930 by Chicago business leader, Max Adler. It is located on the northeast tip of Northerly Island at the shore of Lake Michigan in Chicago, Illinois. The Adler is America's first planetarium and part of Chicago's Museum Campus, which includes the John G. Shedd Aquarium and The Field Museum. The Adler's mission is to inspire exploration and understanding of the Universe.

The Adler Planetarium opened to the public on May 12, 1930.[3] For its design, architect Ernest A. Grunsfeld, Jr. was awarded the gold medal of the Chicago chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 1931.[4] It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1987.[2][5]

The Adler is home to three full size theaters, extensive space science exhibitions, and a significant collection of antique scientific instruments and print materials. In addition, the Adler boasts the Doane Observatory, one of the only research-active, public urban observatories. This lakeside observatory is the only place in Chicago where the public can see planets, stars, and galaxies up-close and in person.

The sculpture Man Enters the Cosmos, depicting a large functional sundial, is located just outside of the Adler Planetarium building.



1923 - Walther Bauersfeld, scientific director of the firm of Carl Zeiss in Jena, Germany designs an optical projection device that effectively creates the illusion of a night sky. With this innovation, the modern planetarium is born.

1928 - Max Adler and architect Ernest Grunsfeld travel to Germany. Adler is so impressed by the modern planetarium that he donates funds to construct the first planetarium in the Western Hemisphere.[6]

1930 - The museum was open to the public on May 12, 1930 and became America's first planetarium.[7] Max Adler purchases the collection of A.W. Mensing at an auction in Amsterdam. This impressive collection of antique scientific instruments provided the foundation for the Adler’s collection. The Adler Planetarium opened on Max's birthday, May 12. Phillip Fox, Ph.D. a well-known professor of astronomy at Northwestern University, is appointed the Planetarium’s first director.

1933 - The Century of Progress Exhibition takes place on what is now the Museum Campus.

1941 - Phillip Fox, Ph.D., is deployed to the army; Assistant Director Maude Bennot is appointed Acting Director of the Planetarium in his absence.

1952 - Max Adler passes away.

1967 - The Board of Trustees is created to share in the responsibilities and management of the Adler Planetarium with the commissioners of the Chicago Park District. The Adler refurbishes the building and replaces the original Zeiss projector with a new Mark VI Zeiss unit.

1973 - A new underground expansion opens to the public on May 12, the Adler’s 43rd birthday.

1976 - The Board of Trustees assumes full management responsibility of the Adler, but continue to receive support from the Chicago Park District.

1977 - The Doane Observatory opens.

1991 - The Planetarium unveils the results of its $6.5 million renovation project. After 23 years of leadership, Dr. Joseph M. Chamberlain retires.

1999 - The 60,000 square foot Sky Pavilion, designed by Lohan Associates of Chicago, opens to the public.[8] This new addition features four new exhibition galleries, including the historic Atwood Sphere, and the Definiti (formerly StarRider) Theater.

2005 - Retired NASA Astronaut James A. Lovell, Jr. serves as chairmain of Adler’s 75th anniversary celebration.

2007 - The Adler unveils its new Space Visualization Laboratory, bringing the latest images of space science to the public.

2010 - The Adler begins transformation of the historic Sky Theater.[9] The renamed Grainger Sky Theater opened in May 2011. The Grainger becomes the most technologically advanced dome theater in the world.

2012 - Paul H. Knappenberger, Jr. Ph.D., announces his retirement after 21 years of service.

2013 - The Board of Trustees elects astrophysicist and academic leader Michelle B. Larson, Ph.D., as president and CEO. Dr. Larson becomes the Adler’s ninth leader and the first female president.

Learn more about the Adler's history.


The Adler Planetarium’s Astronomy department and Webster Institute for the History of Astronomy conduct and publish research for both the scientific community as well as the general public.

Adler astronomers possess rich and diverse expertise in many areas of astronomy as well as other closely related science fields. Their studies include planetary geology, star formation, gamma-rays, and telescope observing.

The Webster Institute for the History of Astronomy cares for, studies, and interprets the Adler’s collections. Since the opening of the Adler, the collection has grown to approximately 8,000 objects, books, works on paper, archival collections, paintings, and photographs. The Adler boasts the largest and most significant collection of historic scientific instruments in the Western Hemisphere[10] as well as one of the most significant collections in the world.

Citizen Science[edit]

Zooniverse, which is part of the Adler's citizen science department, is the world's leading citizen science platform. It is a global collaboration across several institutions that design and build citizen science projects. Zooniverse has engaged more than 900,000 online volunteers as active scientists by discovering planets, mapping the surface of Mars and detecting solar flares.

Far Horizons Program[edit]

Far Horizons is the Adler’s high-altitude balloon program. Participants design, build, and launch experiments flown to heights above 100,000 feet (30,000 m) on high altitude balloons. The program offers real world opportunities for students and the community to participate in science, mathematics, physics, and engineering challenges.

The Doane Observatory[edit]

Opened in 1977, the Doane Observatory is largest aperture telescope available to the public in the Chicagoland area. With its 20-inch (0.5 m) diameter mirror, the Doane can gather over 5,000 times more light than an unaided human eye, allowing guests to see celestial objects like the Moon, planets, stars, and galaxies that are trillions of miles away. The original telescope, a 16-inch Cassegrain refracting telescope built specifically for the Adler, was retired in 1987 and replaced with the current telescope.

In 2013, the Adler Planetarium announced plans to undertake the first major renovation of the Doane Observatory. Expected completion in 2015, renovations will include the addition of an indoor classroom, a restroom, HVAC systems, accessible entry ramps, and telescope and technology upgrades.


The Definiti Space Theater[edit]

The Adler's second domed theater, the Definiti Theater takes audiences on a spectacular journey in any one of its featured shows using an all-digital projection system.

The Grainger Sky Theater[edit]

The largest of Adler's domed theaters, the Grainger Sky Theater offers audiences unique shows using the most immersive, technologically enhanced theater experience ever developed for a planetarium.

The Samuel C. Johnson Family Star Theater[edit]

The Adler's newly redesigned Samuel C. Johnson Family Star Theater allows audiences to the chance to see one incomparable show in dazzling, high definition 3D.


Planet Explorers[edit]

The Adler's permanent exhibition Planet Explorers allows families with young children to take the helm in this modern-day space adventure. Children will enter a world where they can play and learn what it takes to be part of a mission to outer space. They will become scientists, astronauts and space explorers.

Our Solar System[edit]

In this interactive exhibition, visitors can virtually explore the Sun and its surrounding eight planets. Highlights of this exhibition include tangible pieces of Mars, the Moon, a meteorite and the asteroids Ceres and Vesta.

The Universe: A Walk Through Space and Time[edit]

In this interactive exhibition, visitors experience how the Universe evolved over 13.7 billion years – from the Big Bang to modern day. As they travel through time, immersive media shows visitors how galaxies, stars, planets – and even the very atoms in their bodies – were created as the Universe grew.

The Historic Atwood Sphere[edit]

Constructed in 1913, the Atwood Sphere is Chicago’s oldest large-scale mechanical planetarium. It is 15 feet in diameter with 692 holes in its metal surface, allowing light to enter and show the positions of the brightest stars in the night sky. When in operation, the sphere slowly rotates around the viewer putting the stars in motion. Originally, this device was not only a planetarium display, but was also used to train pilots to navigate the nighttime sky.

Telescopes: Through The Looking Glass[edit]

Telescopes: Through the Looking Glass presents the technology used to gather information about our Universe. The exhibition shows how these amazing instruments have changed our concepts of the Universe and our place in it. Telescopes: Through the Looking Glass has recently received a new addition that explores the South Pole Telescope. Located at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica, this extreme weather instrument was designed to explore light emitted from the Universe billions of years ago.

Shoot For The Moon[edit]

This permanent exhibition highlights the exciting stories of human space exploration. The exhibition begins with A Journey with Jim Lovell, featuring the fully restored Gemini 12 spacecraft and the Lovell Collection of personal space artifacts. In the second gallery, Mission: Moon, young visitors discover the thrills and dangers of being an explorer and imagine their own futures in space. The interactive Moon Wall allows visitors to fly over the lunar surface, exploring the most up-to-date images from the Moon’s surface while listening to personal narrations by Captain James A. Lovell, Jr.

Astronomy In Culture[edit]

Astronomy in Culture tells the tale of the understanding and use of astronomy in ancient and medieval cultures. This sprawling, permanent exhibition encompasses two engaging exhibitions, Bringing Heavens to Earth and Universe in Your Hands.

Bringing Heavens To Earth[edit]

Since ancient times, people have looked at the heavens with awe and wonder, but they have also used the sky as an inspiration and resource for the entire spectrum of their lives. Visitors learn about cultures that have engaged in the timeless quest to understand their place in the Universe, and found diverse ways to incorporate astronomy into their daily lives. Plant potatoes by the Pleiades as they do in the Andes, send an Egyptian pharaoh to his celestial destiny, and look at the Moon and Jupiter to determine your fate as an Assyrian king.

Universe In Your Hands[edit]

Visitors are taken to a time in history when people believed that the Earth was the center of the Universe. This exhibition features spectacular astrolabes, armillary spheres, and sundials to illustrate the medieval European and Middle Eastern conception of the Universe. The medieval classroom explores how different school was in the Middle Ages compared to today. Visitors learn how to use early astronomy tools including astrolabes and sundials.

Space Visualization Lab (SVL)[edit]

The SVL presents the unique experience of a working visualization lab to museum visitors. Astronomy Conversations are engaging sessions that provide Adler visitors the opportunity to meet astronomers, scientists, and historians in an informal setting, and learn more through hands-on exhibitions.


CyberSpace is an all-electronic exhibition gallery displaying the latest space science discoveries. Explore the ever-changing Universe through computer-based interactive exhibitions, such as Vision Stations, which provide realistic immersive experiences of the Universe and a Cyber Classroom for up-to-date information on the latest space science technology. It is the central component of the Adler's Center for Space Science Education, which has been supported by NASA and the U.S. Department of Education.

Ongoing Programs[edit]

Adler After Dark[edit]

Adler After Dark, the Adler Planetarium’s exclusive 21+ evening event, was recently voted “Best After Hours Event” by the Chicago Reader[11] and “Best Date Night” by Chicago Parent.[12] Guests at Adler After Dark enjoy open museum access, themed programs, sky shows and breathtaking views of the Chicago skyline.


AstroOvernights give families a chance to spend a night under the stars at the Adler. Guests enjoy open museum access, a sky show and educational programming.

Astronomy Lectures[edit]

The Astronomy Department at the Adler brings current topics in astronomy to guests through a quarterly lecture series.

Hack Days[edit]

The Adler hosts quarterly “Hack Days”, encouraging software developers, designers, scientists, engineers, artists and people who just like to create and build, to work together to solve interesting problems. Hacking events at the Adler provide a bridge to science and technology communities within the city of Chicago.

Summer Camps[edit]

Participants at the Adler‘s summer camps build rockets, launch high altitude balloons, and explore the edge of space. The Adler's hands-on summer camps are designed for children ages 5–14. With seven unique camps to choose from, young space and technology enthusiasts are introduced to science concepts while engaging their creativity.

Image gallery[edit]

See also[edit]


External links[edit]