So, hands up who hasn’t dreamed of blasting off into Outer Space and discovering other planets? Chances are, many of us have wondered about all those other worlds the universe holdsand possible alien life beyond our planet. Not least when we were children. Well, if you’re visiting London any time soon, a great place to indulge those youthful ponderings – and, should you be bringing the kids with you, especially theirs – is the Greenwich Planetarium.
Officially named the Peter Harrison Planetarium,this 120-seat digital laser planetarium is housed at the Royal Observatory (famous for the Greenwich Meridian line), itself located at the top of the hill in the splendid setting of Greenwich Park.Its official website sells the place as ‘a tour bus of the universe’, which sums up nicely the accessibility and very family-friendly approach of the venue.
Indeed, it makes it its business to transport visitors to distant galaxies, take them to the surface of our nearest neighbouring planet Mars, allow them to witness the extraordinary birth of a star or fly them straight into the heart of the Sun – all from the comfort of their cinema-like seat that puts them at the very centre of the interplanetary action.
And for family visitors, it might just make for the perfect day out, not least if you’re staying at The Montcalm at the Brewery London City Hotel, because from there you can reach it via the Docklands Light Railway,which is sure to delight the kids as the journey offers spectacular views of the Canary Wharf area and all its urban architecture and skyscrapers.
When you get to the planetarium at Greenwich itself, you’ll find it holds regular shows perfectly tailored to appealing to the senses and captivating the minds of young ones. The ‘Meet our neighbours’ show takes place daily, kicking-off with an audience vote of where they want to go, before they cast their eyes up to the domed ceiling and are whisked off according to their democratic decision – which is chosen between neighbouring planets and galaxies far, far away – complete with a live and lively commentary from genuine astronomers.
Similarly, intended for the under-sevens, there’s the daily ‘Space Safari’, in which, via music, rhyme and interactivity, young ’uns can follow a teddy bear’s journey through the Solar System as it tries to find the ‘Great Bear in the sky’.Plus, there’s also ‘Solar System, Galaxy, Universe’, which is designed for five-year-olds and up, exploring galactic superclusters and giving an impression of the sheer variety and size of the Solar System, our galaxy and the universe beyond.
After enjoying a show, which usually lastsaround a child-friendly 30 minutes, you can check to see just how much they’ve taken in by visiting the impressively interactive exhibitsin the entirely free Weller Astronomy Galleries. These offer kids the opportunity to observe how the universe itself was formed, have their big space questions answered by on-screen experts and even guide their very own space mission – do they have what it takes to launch a craft into the stratosphere and beyond, ensuring it doesn’t crash into the Moon? Again, how many of us have wondered now and again just how we’d really get on if ever plonked in that position!
And, finally, what better way to round out your visit to this fascinating venue than to take a look at and – yes – actually touch a genuine meteorite? And a meteorite that’s 4.5 billion years old at that (roughly as old as the Sun and Earth), having enjoyed a trip around the Solar System before it crash-landed on our planet. Since then, The Nama people of Southern Africa chipped off bits of it and used them as tools before it was identified by experts in the 19th Century as the meteorite it’s understood to be today.
Overall then, for all the family – those still fascinated by the wonders of the universe and little ones youthfully captivated by them – this is a London exhibit that could just prove to be out of this world!