Skip to content

Outreach

Clemson University Planetarium

Image of solar system in planetarium.

The Department of Physics and Astronomy maintains a digital planetarium in Kinard Laboratory 112. The planetarium is equipped with a highly advanced, full dome digital theater system, the Digistar 7. The new theater system, installed in 2022, has redefined what’s possible in a digital planetarium with its advanced user interface, enhanced real-time rendering capabilities and 4K full-dome video playback. With Digistar 7, the planetarium operators have a wide range of storytelling tools available to customize presentations for any audience. 

Normal operations began sometime around September 1961 and since that time, operators have entertained more than 6,000 visiting groups. The computer interface allows the operator to project a large number of astronomical objects on the dome with ease. Upon a visitor’s request, an operator can fly the audience through Saturn's rings, take them to see other stars in the Milky Way up close, or fly to other galaxies or clusters in the distant universe. Additionally, the planetarium can be used to teach audiences about is seen in the night sky, such as the planets and different constellations that can be seen throughout the year from different locations.

The planetarium is operated on a volunteer basis. Faculty members and graduate students are involved in the production of shows. During the academic year, public shows are held on a regular basis, usually twice a month. Groups may also schedule private shows. The planetarium seats up to 38 visitors and can accommodate up to three wheelchairs.

 

 

Visiting the Planetarium

Public Shows

Public shows during the Fall 2022 semester will take place weekly at 6 p.m. Thursdays, excluding University holidays. 

To reserve a seat at one of the free public shows, use the signup link or the “Reserve a Public Show Seat” button on this page. Seats for each show will be made available for reservation one week in advance on the Friday before the show. Those with a Clemson account should use it to sign in. Community members without Clemson credentials should choose the “community members” login or create an account. Be sure to record the login information for future use. The reservation system currently only allows for one seat reservation per login. If you are planning to attend with children, or other guests for whom it does not make sense to create additional logins, email clemson.planetarium@gmail.com with the show you are planning to attend, the name of the person who made the reservation and the number of additional guests.

Email clemson.planetarium@gmail.com with any questions.


Private Shows

Private shows can be requested by either educational organizations (schools, scouting troops, library groups) or private parties (birthdays, family reunions, just for fun). During a private show, you will have the space to yourself and can request the topics you would like covered by the presenter. The cost for a private show is for the entire show, not per person.

Costs are as follows:

  • Educational organization, weekday: $40
  • Educational organization, weekend: $60
  • Private party, weekday: $60
  • Private party, weekend: $80

Do not let the cost be the preventing factor of bringing students to the planetarium; we will work with you. Discounted prices are available for educational groups whose visit would otherwise be prevented due to monetary restrictions. Email clemson.planetarium@gmail.com for more information. 

If you would like to request a private show, use the private show request form. Once you complete the form someone from the university will contact you in about two business days to confirm the reservation and work out details. You will be contacted again for final confirmation the week of your private show. Email clemson.planetarium@gmail.com with any questions.

Considerations for Private Shows

To help plan your visit here are some things to keep in mind.

  • Seating

    The planetarium has 38 dedicated seats with some space for wheelchairs or supplementary seating, bringing the total capacity to 40. For very large groups such as school trips we can organize back-to-back shows; we recommend checking out the South Carolina Botanical Garden or the Bob & Betsy Campbell Museum of Natural History (right next door) while on campus.

  • Parking

    Parking on Clemson campus can be difficult; please plan ahead to arrive to your show on time. For large groups that will utilize buses, drop off visitors in the parking lot behind Sikes Hall and then park along Perimeter Road or at the South Carolina Botanical Garden.

    For mid-sized groups, purchase a parking pass and take a shuttle into campus.

    For smaller groups (one or two cars) use the metered parking. If the show is after 5:30 p.m., you can park in the Sikes Hall lot as space is available.

  • Entry

    Clemson University currently has locked doors with key-card access. You will need to be let into the building if you are not a Clemson employee or student. Your group should plan to meet the presenter on the north side (Sikes Hall lot side) of the Kinard Laboratory building (labeled the “PHYSICS” building) next to the pendulum tower. Ideally, find your way to the first floor (not the ground floor); the base of the pendulum will be one floor down. Search for “Clemson Focault Pendulum Tower” on Google maps for a precise location.

  • During the Show

    Food and drinks are not permitted in the planetarium space, though water bottles are OK. We ask that you silence your phones prior to entry as sounds travel very well inside the dome and any lights from phone screens will disrupt the show. Questions are encouraged during the private shows, but please limit them to when the presenter pauses for questions so that the show can stay on schedule.

  • Additional Questions?

    If you have any questions about the planetarium please reach out to clemson.planetarium@gmail.com.

People in a planetarium watching a show.

If You Visit

Planning a visit? The planetarium is located in Kinard Laboratory 112. Kinard Laboratory is behind Sikes Hall and Long Hall. Take S.C. Highway 93 to Cherry Road, and then turn onto Parkway Drive (by the President’s House). Follow Parkway Drive to the parking lot between Sikes Hall and Long Hall. Kinard is located behind Long Hall.

 

Show Topics

A number of shows are offered in the planetarium. Expand the accordions for more information.

  • Eclipses

    An eclipse is an astronomical event that occurs when one planet or moon is lined up between a star and another planet or moon. The term eclipse is most often used to describe either a solar eclipse, when the Moon lines up between the earth and the sun, or a lunar eclipse, when the earth lines up between the sun and the moon. An eclipse that involves the sun, earth and moon can occur only when they are nearly in a straight line, allowing one body to be hidden behind another. Eclipses can, of course, occur in systems beyond the earth-moon: For example, a binary star system can produce eclipses if the plane of the orbit of its stars intersects the observer's position. With the upgraded planetarium, operators can show visitors real-time eclipses as viewed from the ground, or from space.

  • Stellar Evolution

    Stellar evolution describes the life of a star as it undergoes a sequence of radical changes during its lifetime. Some stars can have a lifetime of a few million years, while others can have a lifetime of over a trillion years. It is believed that the lifetime of a star is inversely related to its mass because large stars use up their fuel quicker than smaller stars. All stars are born from collapsing clouds of gas and dust, often called nebulae. Once a protostar (a large mass that forms by contraction) reaches a state of equilibrium, it becomes what is known as a main sequence star and will be powered by nuclear fusion for most of its life. Some stars, like the Sun, will undergo several processes that will cause it grow in size until they reach the red giant phase. When a star like the sun uses up all its fuel, its core will collapse into a dense white dwarf and the outer layers are expelled as a planetary nebula. Stars that are more than 10 times massive than the sun can explode in a supernova as their iron cores collapse into an extremely dense neutron star or black hole.

    With Digistar 4, operators can show planetarium visitors the entire life of a star, beginning with its birth in a Milky Way nebula, and ending with its death as a neutron star, black hole, or white dwarf. Visitors can also learn about the eventual fate of our own sun, as it expands into a red giant (growing in size until it reaches the orbit of Jupiter and beyond), and blows its outer layers off until its core collapses into a white dwarf.

  • The Milky Way

    The Milky Way is the name of the galaxy that we live in. The Milky Way is a disk-shaped galaxy and is only one of billions of galaxies in the universe. Our solar system's location in the Milky Way is about two-thirds out from the hot, dense center. In the absence of light sources, parts of the Milky Way are seen as almost linear streaks across the heavens. This is due to its disk shape and looking at our galaxy from a side view, our vantage point from planet Earth. Using the planetarium software, objects in the Milky Way can be viewed at audience request in present, past, or future time. Programs ran in the planetarium allow the Milky Way to be explored from its energy filled center to the outer reaches of its spiraling disk.

  • The Solar System

    A solar system is a name for a group of planets, rocks and other material that orbit a star. Our solar system is the cosmic location where earth resides. Our solar system is inside the Milky Way galaxy and is heliocentric, with the sun in the middle and objects orbiting around it. Aside from the sun, our solar system is home to eight planets, moons that orbit them, dwarf planets, the asteroid belt, comets, space dust and many other interesting celestial objects. Earth is one of the four terrestrial planets orbiting closest to the sun, while the five gas giants reside outside the asteroid belt. Each of these planets, their moons, or any other object in our solar system can be observed using the planetarium in present, past or future time. Orbital paths, astronomical distances, or anything the audience requests can be seen using the interactive planetarium software.

  • Galaxies

    Galaxies, by definition, are massive, gravitationally bound systems that consist of stars, stellar remnants, and a mixture of gas, dust, and dark matter. There are more than 170 billion galaxies in the observable universe. Most are 1,000 to 100,000 parsecs (30.9 trillion kilometers) in diameter. The size of galaxies range anywhere from 10 million stars in the smaller end of the spectrum to 100 million stars at the larger end. Each galaxy orbits its own center of mass. It is believed that many, if not all, galaxies are centralized with super massive black holes. Galaxies are generally categorized based on their visual appearance. The most common form is an elliptical galaxy, which derives its name from its ellipse-shaped light profile. Spiral galaxies are those that are flat and disk shaped with long curving, dusty arms. Smaller galaxies that lack coherent structure and unusually shaped galaxies are referred to as irregular galaxies. These irregular shapes are usually the result of the gravitation pull of nearby galaxies. With the planetarium software it is possible to “fly” to any galaxy in the solar system. Data and statics about the galaxy can be given including overall size and distance from earth.

  • Constellations

    Constellations, contrary to common belief, are not real. They are simply made up memory aids used to help distinguish which stars are which in the night sky. On a given night with good visibility there are between 1,000 and 1,500 stars visible to the naked eye. Constellations help identifying specific stars by breaking up the night sky into smaller, more manageable bits. For example, when you see the three stars in a row you immediately recognize Orion. Based on this it is possible to locate Betelgeuse and Bellatrix as the left and right shoulders of the Orion Constellation. From there, it is known that Orion's hunting dog and its corresponding stars are nearby. Today the International Astronomical Union has defined 88 official constellation boundaries that successfully include each star in the sky in a single constellation. The shapes seen in the skies by the stars depend on your point of view from earth.

    Constellations are generally divided into two groups: circumpolar and seasonal. Circumpolar constellations never rise or set; they are always visible in the night sky. Seasonal constellations, on the other hand, change through time due to the earth's rotation and orbit. These constellations are also affected based on the latitude of your point of view. The planetarium provides a show that displays and labels the constellations of the night sky. The shapes of the constellations and the stars, planets and comets that are included in it are labeled. The program used also allows guests to view the sky at the current time and location through use of projectors on the dome.

  • Other Show Topics

    Other show topics offered in the planetarium include:

    • Auroras.
    • Air traffic.
    • Satellites.
    • Galactic nebulae.
    • Supernova remnants.
    • Black holes.
    • Meteors.
    • Motion of the earth.
    • Color of stars.
Department of Physics and Astronomy
Department of Physics and Astronomy | 118 Kinard Laboratory, Clemson, SC 29634