Holcomb Observatory and Planetarium Show | Butler University

holcomb star viewing with kids
Our family just had a wonderful evening out enjoying a night of astronomy and planet gazing right here in Indianapolis at the Holcomb Observatory and Planetarium. I had no idea we had such a cool planetarium with an observation deck and telescope locally. As a family of 7 with children ranging from ages 15-2 years of age, we sometimes have to pick an activity geared toward the younger ones or the older ones. This was one outing EVERYONE of all ages could engage in and enjoy. We will definitely be back for more!
holcomb indy with kidsThe night began just before 8:00pm as we arrived for an evening public showing. The Holcomb Observation and Planetarium is on the campus of Butler University. We had no problem finding the building by using our cell phone’s gps. There is plenty of free parking in a parking lot directly in front of the building.
As we entered the building I was impressed to see many pictures of planets, the moon and other celestial objects circling the atrium. Each picture had a little description of what they were. To be honest, my kids didn’t read too much of the info, but even my 2 year old enjoyed the really cool pictures. I found that if I read a brief synopsis of the coolest tidbit, they would listen. Later we learned that most of the pictures were actually taken with the telescope we would later tour.
holcomb observatory with kids at butler
Once everyone arrived for the tour we were directed down some stairs into the planetarium. For those of you familiar with the planetarium located in The Children’s Museum of holcomb planetarium show indy with kidsIndianapolis, it is about the same size, however there are older wooden seats that are more like benches rather than individual seats. As we sat and waited for everyone to come in there were various pictures with some facts about them being displayed on the planetarium ceiling. My kids began reading the facts and mini quizzes and were having a blast trying to guess the answers. (And I have to say I was a little proud/shocked that they were so well behaved, because I was convinced they would be bored during this part, but it was really well done and the right combination of educational and fun!) Once the theater was filled, a student in the astronomy and physics department began a presentation on Saturn. It was fascinating and had great pictures. He went into detail explaining the Solar System and Saturn’s relationship within it. There were a lot of facts and information, but everything was presented in a way that anyone could understand it, but without it being too basic. It really grabbed everyone’s attention from adults, to teens, to school aged, to toddler.
After the presentation there was a more typical planetarium show. All the lights were dimmed as we watched stars appear on the ceiling. We learned about various constellations and how to find them in the night sky. After a couple brief stories about how the constellation became known the lights came on and we were invited back to the atrium.
holcomb telescope with kidsNow this the part that I must warn you about. If you have a fear of heights, vertigo, are wheel chair bound, or unable to climb a few stories of stairs, you may want to sit this part out. There is no handicap accessibility or stroller accessibility up to the large telescope and observatory. My husband decided to stay down stairs with our 2 year old as I climbed the stairs with our 4 sons. I was doing ok, until I got to the section of stairs up against the window. I had been walking against the wall but when I got to that particular spot I could barely move. I suffer from vertigo and balance issues, and it apparently really threw me off. Since we were already half way up and my kids had gone up ahead I toughed it out and made my way up. I’m really glad I did.
As we reached the observatory we were greeted by another student and a LARGE telescope. The telescope is under renovations and repairs, so we weren’t able to see through it, but we could see all of it’s parts and how it functioned. (Repairs are expected to be completed in November, and guests will be able to use it to view the heavens once again.) We learned that it is one of the oldest steal telescopes in the country! My kids favorite part in the observatory was making the ceiling move. The entire ceiling is a giant metal dome. It has a large section that can open to see out of. Since you want to see various sections of the sky, the whole thing can spin around. The kids in the tour each took turns pressing a magic button that spun the giantholcomb indianapolis with kids domed ceiling around. As you can imagine it was quiet impressive to see and hear the massive gears rotating the ceiling. We slowly began our descent back to the atrium. As we got to the bottom I told my husband I could barely make it because of my vertigo. As I said that, another mom came up and said she was so glad she heard me say that because she had had the same issue. So once again, please keep that in mind before heading upstairs.
After our tour inside we went outside into the area just outside the building. It was a gorgeous clear night and although it was still fairly light out, we were able to see Saturn, Mars and some star clusters through a fairly large telescope. I was told that they were using the telescopes since the main telescope was out of commission. It was unclear if they would continue to use the telescopes outside during the tours once the main telescope was repaired. However if you go between now and November 2014, you will get to use them, so it would be a great time to go for anyone unable to climb the stairs.
My kids took multiple turns looking through the telescope and asking the two students questions about space. Since we have younger ones, we left just before 10:00pm, but the viewing goes on until 11:00pm.

All in all it was a GREAT night out for everyone. My kids have already asked when we can go again. As the year goes on, they focus on different planets and constellations as they begin to appear the the sky. We are looking forward to going back to learn about Jupiter next.

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holcomb telescope indy with kidsIf you plan to visit, here is what you’ll need to know:
Cost $2.00/children, $3.00/adults CASH ONLY
Doors open at 8:00 PM
Planetarium show at 8:30 PM
Telescope Viewing at 9:30 to 11:00 PM (weather permitting)
Offered year round on MOST Friday and Saturdays closed on July 4, and 5.
Up-to-date closing and other info can be found on their website.
Large telescope and observatory is NOT ADA accessible, but planetarium has a chair lift.
No reservations required for public tours on Fridays and Saturdays
They do offer programs for scouts, simply call to discuss

Holcomb Observatory & Planetarium
4600 Sunset Ave.
Indianapolis, IN 46208
(317) 940-8333


Article and photos by Nicole Orr for Indy with Kids

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4600 Sunset Ave.

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