Do you have a future astronaut in your household? Or perhaps an avid stargazer? Well, you’re in luck. We may not be a space capital such as Huntsville or Cape Canaveral, but Central Illinois – from Peoria to Bloomington-Normal to Champaign-Urbana to Decatur there are multiple attractions where the space fanatics of all ages can learn and enjoy.
Peoria Riverfront Museum Dome Planetarium: This planetarium is part of a larger complex, which we’ve written about previously, and one of the benefits of being in a large complex is the volume of opportunities that await space lovers, including multiple planetarium shows Tuesday through Sunday. BONUS: One of the things that we love about this planetarium is their extensive menu of grown-up focused events – some involving food and/or adult beverages.
Peoria Riverfront Museum’s Community Solar System model: The world’s most complete large-scale model of the Solar System, this covers 6,000 square miles of Central Illinois from Galesburg to Normal. Most of the model is outside; some sites are inside locations. Much of the model including Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, and Jupiter – as well as the sun – is centered in Peoria and is walkable. The sun is located at the Peoria Riverfront Museum. See this for more info. FREE!
Challenger Learning Center, Normal: This place is an amazing way to experience a Space Mission without having to go all the way to Florida or California and is one of 40 such centers around the world. The Challenger Learning Center offers simulated space and science missions for groups, field trips, camps, and some public events – check their calendar. Housed at Heartland Community College in Normal. (This place deserves an entire article by us, and we once had the chance to visit, but we didn’t have kids with us at the time.) Speaking of Normal: Illinois State University also has a planetarium, which at publishing of this article, was under extensive renovations.
The Requarth Observatory, Decatur: Head to the Millikin University campus which boasts the state’s largest telescope. Requarth Observatory hosts free Public Observation Nights (PONs) when there are clear skies and generally from March – October, generally. Get views of different galaxies, giant star clusters within the Milky Way, and numerous other stars. Tip: Check the Millikin website for information about PONs when the weather warms.
Staerkel Planetarium, Champaign: We are so lucky to have the Staerkel Planetarium, commonly known as the second largest in the state of Illinois (after Adler Planetarium), right in our backyard. What we love: the planetarium’s willingness to serve everyone – from toddlers/preschools to older adults. From field trips to birthday parties to special events to public showings of films and demonstrations, Staerkel Planetarium offers something for everyone. Public shows are generally Friday and Saturday nights only, with special matinees appearing on our calendar. Tip: buy a family membership if you are frequent visitors. It’s a deal!
Campus Observatory, Urbana: Built in 1896, the Astronomical Society frequently holds FREE public observing sessions at the University’s historic observatory. The usual open house schedule is for the second Friday of the month, for about two hours (and are typically posted on the chambanamoms.com calendar). Visitors have the opportunity to gaze through the 115+ year-old, original 12″ refracting telescope, as well as several smaller telescopes. Sometimes faculty from the University of Illinois Department of Astronomy are present.
The Champaign Urbana Astronomical Society: This is a local organization devoted to the promotion of astronomy and enjoyment of the night skies. They have a small observatory in rural Champaign and hold events to watch the night skies. They have a reasonable family membership fee ($20 per year) and some events that are members only.
What did we miss? We’ll add a “readers choice”!