Cosmic Tours

Portable Planetarium

Cosmic Tours is an integrated education and outreach program to bring the Universe to you! The UCSD OIR lab maintains and facilitates the use of the portable planetarium for public shows for K-12 schools and other outreach events, as well as undergraduate curricula. A planetarium serves as a fantastic facility for interactive scientific visualization. Portable planetaria make use of an inflatable dome that includes an advanced projector. Our team currently offers a traditional astronomical experience of the night sky and offer pre-arranged visualization programs and full dome movies that are developed for children and adults. The portable planetarium follows safety regulations, and in case of emergency can easily be flipped by one person for a rapid exit.

The UCSD planetarium is currently organized by graduate students Maren Cosens and Lindsay Lowry, and Prof. Shelley Wright (PI). If you are interested in planetarium show at your institute or K-12 school, please contact planetarium[@] (remove brackets in the email address). Our shows book several weeks and months in advance.

The cosmic tours program is conducted all by UCSD graduate students and postdoctoral scholars and is volunteer-based. If you are interested in supporting the Cosmic Tours planetarium program please donate here.

We appreciate the UCSD Division of Physical Sciences for funding the purchase of the portable planetarium equipment.

Covid-19 Update
While we are not currently able to hold in person events, we have developed a new virtual planetarium experience. We are now able to offer the same interactive astronomy experience by sharing our screens over Zoom. Please contact us if you are interested in virtual planetarium shows for your school or event.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How does a portable planetarium work?
Our portable planetarium consists of a tent-like dome structure that is connected to a fan and inflated like a bouncy castle. A projector and fish-eye lens is placed at the center of the dome to project images onto the inside surface. The dome is floorless, resting on the building floor and therefore can easily be lifted for quick exits. There is a zipper door on the wall of the dome to enter and exit the planetarium while inflated.

2. How does this program work to bring the planetarium to our school or event?
We typically do ~3-6 shows (each 15-30 minutes) at each event. The length of shows depends on the age of the audience and the total time for the event. We can fit about 35 people in the dome for each show. For schools, we typically give shows to all the students of one grade level (e.g. all 5th graders). We do not give shows to single classes due to overhead of set-up and transportation. We also tailor the content of the shows to the age of the audience and incorporate topics they may be learning about in class.

3. How large is the planetarium?
The footprint of the dome is ~20ft in diameter and the fan extends a few feet on one side of that. At the center, the dome is ~12ft tall when fully inflated and at minimum an extra foot of clearance is required below any fixtures.

4. What is the planetarium made out of?
"Digitalis® Domes are made of Digitalis’ imported Nolux™ fabric. This durable, fire retardant fabric consists of six distinct layers which keep out stray light and enhance digital projection.”

5. What is needed for set-up?
The planetarium does need to be set-up indoors, so this requires a large room with at least 13ft of vertical clearance between floor and ceiling (or any hanging fixtures). The room must be at least 25ft across in the smallest dimension and power is needed to run the fan and projector.

6. Can the dome be set-up outdoors?
No, the dome is not tied down so it cannot be set-up outdoors due to concerns with wind.

7. How many people can fit in the dome?
For our planetarium shows we allow a maximum of ~35 people inside the dome at a time.

8. Can the portable planetarium accommodate individuals with accessibility concerns?
The planetarium walls simply rest on the building floor and the dome therefore can be lifted at the sides in order to allow wheelchair access. However, the lens sits about 3 ft off the ground and projects light in a complete hemisphere above it. Thus participants using wheelchairs or other accommodations may find this light uncomfortable depending on their height. We also have chairs available for individuals who are not able to sit on the floor for an extended period.

9. How much does it cost to have the planetarium at our event?
We charge a rate of $100 per event to bring the planetarium and give shows. This is a fully volunteer program and this fee covers travel costs and equipment maintenance. If this amount is cost prohibitive for your school please contact us about applying for a fee waiver. If you would also like to donate to this program to keep it sustainable for the San Diego community please donate here.

10. How long does it take to set-up the planetarium?
We can set-up our portable planetarium in about an hour. This includes the time to inflate the dome and set-up the projection equipment. Take down is a little faster and can be done in just about 30 minutes.

11. How long are the planetarium shows?
Planetarium shows can vary in length and material depending on the event and audience. The minimum length per show is 15 minutes to allow enough time to orient the audience and allow them to ask questions. 30 minutes for each show is recommended to allow a wider variety of material to be covered and more interaction with the audience.