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Adler Planetarium

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Title: Adler Planetarium  
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Subject: Zooniverse (citizen science project), Philip Fox (astronomer), Field Museum of Natural History, Shedd Aquarium, List of museums and cultural institutions in Chicago
Collection: 1930 Establishments in Illinois, Buildings and Structures Completed in 1930, Buildings and Structures on the National Register of Historic Places in Chicago, Illinois, Institutions Accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, Museums Established in 1930, Museums in Chicago, Illinois, National Historic Landmarks in Illinois, Planetaria in the United States, Smithsonian Institution Affiliates, Visitor Attractions in Chicago, Illinois
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Adler Planetarium

Adler Planetarium
Adler Planetarium is located in Chicago
Location in central Chicago
Location 1300 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, Illinois, United States
Built 1930
Architect Ernest Grunsfeld, Jr.
Architectural style Art Deco
Governing body Private
NRHP Reference # 87000819
Significant dates
Added to NRHP February 27, 1987[1]
Designated NHL February 27, 1987[2]

The Adler Planetarium is a public museum dedicated to the study of astronomy and astrophysics. It 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.


  • History 1
    • Establishment 1.1
    • Timeline 1.2
  • Research 2
  • Theaters 3
  • Exhibitions 4
    • Planet Explorers 4.1
    • Our Solar System 4.2
    • The Universe: A Walk Through Space and Time 4.3
    • The Historic Atwood Sphere 4.4
    • Telescopes: Through The Looking Glass 4.5
    • Mission Moon 4.6
    • Astronomy In Culture 4.7
    • Bringing Heavens To Earth 4.8
    • Universe In Your Hands 4.9
    • Space Visualization Laboratory (SVL) 4.10
  • Ongoing Programs 5
  • Image gallery 6
  • See also 7
  • Notes 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10


Adler planetarium landmark marker


In 1923, Oskar von Miller of the Deutsches Museum commissioned the Carl Zeiss Works to design a mechanism that projects an image of celestial bodies onto a dome. This was achieved by Walther Bauersfeld and the invention became known as a planetarium when it debuted the next year. Its popularity quickly spread, and by 1929, there were fifteen in Germany, two in Italy, one in Russia, and one in Austria.[6] Max Adler, a former executive with Sears, Roebuck & Co. in Chicago, Illinois, had recently retired to focus on philanthropic endeavors, primarily on behalf of the local musical and Jewish communities. However, after listening to a friend describe a Munich planetarium, Adler decided that one would fit in well within the emerging Museum Campus in Chicago. Adler visited the Munich planetarium with his cousin, architect Ernest Grunsfeld, Jr., whom Adler would commission to design the Chicago structure.[5] He also learned about a sale of astronomical instruments and antiques by W. M. Mensing in Amsterdam, which he purchased the following year. The Mensing Collection became the focus of the Astronomical Museum.[7] Adler offered $500,000 in 1928 for the construction of the first planetarium in the Western Hemisphere.[6]

The Adler Planetarium was originally planned as a part of the Museum of Science and Industry.

The planetarium was originally considered for part of the Museum of Science and Industry, an endeavor led by Adler's brother-in-law Julius Rosenwald. Rosenwald was determined to convert the former Palace of Fine Arts of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition into a museum, but was struggling to manage the many required renovations. These delays caused Adler to look elsewhere for a location.[8] The South Park Commissioners, the precursor to the Chicago Park District, had just completed Northerly Island, the first of five intended (but otherwise never executed) recreational islands that were to be consistent with Daniel Burnham's 1909 Plan of Chicago. The Adler Planetarium and Astronomical Museum opened on Adler's birthday, May 12, 1930. The Chicago chapter of the American Institute of Architects awarded Grunsfield a gold medal for his design.[5] The planetarium hosted the 44th meeting of the American Astronomical Society later that year.[9]


Adler Planetarium original building exterior meets the new building renovation

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.[10]

1930 - 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 to the public on Max Adler’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 Exposition takes place on what is now the Museum Campus.

1941 - Philip Fox is deployed to the Army; Assistant Director Maude Bennot is appointed Acting Director of the Planetarium during 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, 1973 the Adler’s 43rd birthday.

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

1977 - The Doane Observatory opens.

1991 - The museum 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.[11] 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.[12] The renamed Grainger Sky Theater opened in May 2011. The Grainger becomes the most technologically advanced dome theater in the world. Thomas Roszak Architecture designed the Clark Family Welcome Gallery using an LED lit fabric and aluminum structure that included educational interactive material projected on the fabric walls.

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.

The view of the Chicago skyline from the planetarium is considered one of the best in the city.[13]

The 2010 Chicago skyline as seen from the Adler Planetarium


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[14] as well as one of the most significant collections in the world.

At the Space Visualization Laboratory (SVL) scientists, technology experts, artists, and educators work together to create new ways for people to virtually explore the Universe. Since its inauguration in 2007, the SVL has brought cutting edge research from scientists in the most prominent institutions around the country, as well as immersive and interactive technologies to the museum floor. In SVL visitors can experience new interactive and immersive visualizations, and attend presentations by astronomers and related researchers featuring these visualizations.

The Adler Citizen Science Department is also the U.S. headquarters of The Zooniverse, one of the world's leading citizen science platform and a global collaboration across several institutions that design and build citizen science projects.[15] As of early 2014, the Zooniverse has engaged more than 1,100,000 online volunteers as active scientists by discovering planets, mapping the surface of Mars and detecting solar flares.[16]

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.

Opened in 1977, the Doane Observatory is the largest aperture telescope available to the public in the Chicago 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 reflecting 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 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 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 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

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

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

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

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

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.

Mission Moon

This permanent exhibition highlights the exciting stories of human space exploration. The exhibition shares the story of Captain James A. Lovell, Jr. and features the fully restored Gemini 12 spacecraft and the Lovell Collection of personal space artifacts. The interactive Moon Wall allows visitors to fly over the lunar surface, exploring images from the Moon’s surface.

Astronomy In Culture

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

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

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 Laboratory (SVL)

SVL presents the unique experience of a working visualization laboratory to museum visitors. The SVL is open to the public for Astronomy Conversationsand "Open Lab", engaging sessions that provide Adler visitors the opportunity to meet astronomers, scientists, visualization experts and historians in an informal setting, and learn more through dynamic, immersive, stereoscopic and interactive visualizations.

Ongoing Programs

Adler After Dark, the Adler Planetarium’s exclusive 21+ evening event, was recently voted “Best After Hours Event” by the Chicago Reader[17] and “Best Date Night” by Chicago Parent.[18] 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. The Astronomy Department at the Adler brings current topics in astronomy to guests through a quarterly lecture series.

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. 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.

Astro Overnights 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.

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

See also


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places.  
  2. ^ a b "Adler Planetarium". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved October 13, 2007. 
  3. ^ "Adler History -- Adler Planetarium". Adler Planetarium. Retrieved February 3, 2014. 
  4. ^ Phillip Fox (September 1933). "Adler Planetarium and Astronomical Museum, An Account of the Optical Planetarium and a Brief Guide to the Museum". Lakeside Press. p. 8. 
  5. ^ a b c James H. Charleton (October 1985), National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination: Adler Planetarium / Adler Planetarium and Astronomical Museum (PDF), National Park Service, retrieved June 22, 2009  and Accompanying 2 photos, exterior, from 1985. PDF (461 KB)
  6. ^ a b "The Adler Planetarium and Astronomical Museum".  
  7. ^ Marche 2005, p. 59–60.
  8. ^ Marche 2005, p. 29.
  9. ^ Marche 2005, p. 200.
  10. ^ [4]
  11. ^ [5]
  12. ^ [6]
  13. ^ Time Out Chicago. London, UK: Universal House. 2009. p. 68.  
  14. ^
  15. ^ Johnson, Steve (29 January 2014). "Want to aid science? You can Zooniverse". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2014-09-14. 
  16. ^ "Zooniverse". Retrieved 18 Feb 2014. 
  17. ^
  18. ^


  • Marche, Jordan (2005). Theaters of Time and Space: American Planetaria, 1930–1970. New Brunswick, NH: Rutgers University Press.  

External links

  • Official website
  • 3D Google Earth Model
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