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Planetarium FAQ

The Virginia Living Museum is designed to show the relationship between people and the natural world, especially as it relates to the environment of Virginia. In the Abbitt Planetarium, we extend and enhance this idea, showing how Virginia is only a small part of the Earth, and how the Earth and the people living on it relate to the environment of the universe around them.

What is the planetarium theater?

Our planetarium theater consists of a 30′ projection dome and a Spitz sciDome planetarium instrument. The theater seats 71. The seats are designed to provide a full view of the sky without neck strain. The dome does not open, as is common to observatories.

How many shows do you run a year?

Our show schedule changes based on numerous factors, most notably including our changing exhibit gallery. In general, on any given weekday (except Mondays and Tuesdays when we are closed), we have various private reserved school programs in the morning, a program for preschoolers in the early afternoon, and a companion program to our current changing exhibit in the later afternoon. On weekends, we have a preschool program in the morning, and various programs in the afternoon, including live sky shows, companion programs to our current changing exhibit, and space science shows.

Reserve a program for your school group

See our current available show listings

Do you have evening programs?

On the second Saturday of every month we hold evening programs in the Abbitt Planetarium. At 7:30pm, we have a planetarium show of some kind, and at 8:30, 10 and 11:30pm we have rock and roll laser shows. On the same night, we have our monthly star party at the Abbitt Observatory, where you can look through our many telescopes for free. We often run evening programs for special events, as well as Halloween, Christmas and July 4.

What kind of equipment do you use in the shows?

The planetarium is the device that projects the stars during the show. It is a fully digital simulation of the sky, allowing us to travel anywhere in our known universe at the touch of a button. It is able to project the sky as seen from anywhere on the Earth, at any time between 99,999BC and 99,9999AD. In addition, we have a SkyLase RGB LED laser system which allows us to draw bright images on the dome in numerous formats. Our eMedia projection system gives us full Internet access to show real-time images of various events in space, including streaming NASA TV for live launch events. Finally, our LED cove lighting system allows us to create the proper mood with countless lighting colors and effects. We cannot show IMAX films. That requires a different type of dome installation and a large format film projector. However, we can and do run full-immersion all-dome movies and video clips, which completely cover the dome’s projection surface. Much more intensive than IMAX, we can make you feel as if you’ve actually gone into space!

Can we bring snacks/drinks into the theater?

Sorry, but no eating, drinking or smoking is permitted in theater at any time. This helps us keep people food away from our animals and provides a clean environment for all of our shows.

Can I record the show with my video camera or take flash pictures during the show?

Sorry, but videotaping and the taking of flash pictures is prohibited at all times due to possible copyright infringement. Plus, flash pictures will result only in a picture of a white dome and will disturb other patrons.

Can I bring a small child to the show?

Yes! Many children enjoy the planetarium theater. We have no particular age restriction we enforce, however, we do list suggested ages for each program. We do have special programming every day specifically for children under the age of 6. We recommend that children who become noisy or disruptive during the show be taken out of the theater. Please place strollers in our stroller park area, away from seats and aisles. For their own safety, children must remain in seats or on an adult’s lap during the show. All aisles should be kept clear in case of emergency. Planetarium staff may be moving throughout the theater during the show – please be aware of your feet!

See our current available show listings

Can I operate the planetarium?

Well, yes and no. Due to the nature of the equipment and the high price of replacement, patrons are not permitted to touch the planetarium instrument or its controls. However, many of our volunteers are trained in show operation and run the theater frequently! For more information on volunteering at the Virginia Living Museum, please visit our Volunteer page.

Can visitors who are blind/deaf attend programs?

All guests are welcome to attend planetarium shows. Accommodations may be available for visitors who are deaf, heard-0f-hearing, blind or with low vision. Planetarium staff should be contacted as soon as possible to determine what materials are available, and to have those materials ready for guests who require them.

Can wheelchairs be brought into the planetarium?

There are four locations specifically designed for wheelchairs in the theater, which will allow you to fully enjoy the program.

Where is the best place to sit in the planetarium theater?

Anywhere! All the seats are good seats in our theater. Due to the nature of our projection equipment and the immersive environment, some equipment may block a small portion of your view from any seat.

Why is it so cold in the theater?

It takes numerous computers and projectors to operate our planetarium theater. They run continuously for eight hours a day and generate a lot of heat. We have to keep them happy by lowering the temperature to a chilly 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Bring your sweater!

Is there a special show for kids?

Yes! We run at least one preschooler program (ages 6 and under) every day except when we are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.

See our current available show listings.

Does the theater actually move?

Fortunately no it does not, because we forgot to install seat belts. You may feel like you are moving during our shows, however! The darkness tricks your brain into thinking you are moving, when the only thing in our theater that can actually move is the laser projection head.


Need More Information? Contact Us!

For questions regarding astronomy, planetarium shows, events or programs, telescopes or the observatory, please contact:

Kelly Herbst, Curator of Astronomy
757-595-1900 ext. 256
Kelly.herbst@thevlm.org