I had no idea we had such a cool planetarium with an observation deck and giant telescope, right here in Indy on the campus of Butler University. As a family of 7 with children ranging from ages 15 – 2 years old, 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!
Public Tours at the Planetarium in Indy
On public tour nights, doors open at 7 p.m. The planetarium show begins at 7:30 p.m. and telescope viewing times are 8:30 – 9:30 p.m. The Holcomb Observation and Planetarium is on the campus of Butler University and we had no problem finding the building using the map on our cell phone. There is plenty of free parking in the Hinkle Fieldhouse lot.
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.
The Planetarium Show at Holcomb
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 Indianapolis, it is about the same size.
As we sat and waited for everyone to come in there were various pictures with some facts being displayed on the planetarium ceiling. My kids began reading the facts and mini quizzes and we were having a blast trying to guess the answers. This activity kept all of the kids engaged with just the right combination of educational information and fun.
Once the theater was filled, a student from the Astronomy and Physics department at Butler began a presentation about Saturn. It was fascinating and had great pictures. He went into detail explaining the Solar System and Saturn’s relationship within it. There was a lot of information, but everything was presented in a way that anyone could understand it. 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.
The Telescope at Holcomb Planetarium and Observatory
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.
As we reached the observatory we were greeted by another student and a LARGE telescope. We learned that it is one of the oldest steel 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 giant domed ceiling around. As you can imagine it was quite impressive to see and hear the massive gears rotating the ceiling. My kids took multiple turns looking through the telescope and asking the two students questions about space.
Family Night Out at the Planetarium
All in all it was a GREAT night out for everyone. My kids have already asked when we can go again. Throughout the year, the students and staff at Holcomb Observatory 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.
Cost and Fees at Holcomb Observatory
If you plan to visit, here is what you’ll need to know: Cost $5 for children and students and $7 for adults adults. Holcomb Observatory accepts cash and credit cards.
Doors open at 8 p.m. (or 7 p.m. depending on the time of year). The planetarium show starts at 8:30 p.m. and the telescope viewing takes place 9:30 to 10:30 p.m. (weather permitting).
Holcomb Observatory weekend tours are offered year round on MOST Friday and Saturday nights.
The Large telescope and observatory is NOT ADA accessible, but the planetarium has a chair lift. If you call in advance to let them know that you are unable to visit the telescope upstairs, a mobile telescope can be set up for you. No reservations required for public tours on Fridays and Saturdays but Holcomb does offer programs for scouts and other groups, simply call to discuss.
Article and photos by Nicole Orr for Indy with Kids