PASS Descriptions


Single program price: $32

Set of all 11 programs*: $270

* 2 programs available for free. See PASS home page.

Flying High

Flying High, designed for children ages 4–6, aims for the audience to experience what it is like to travel into space. First, outside the planetarium, the children observe an unexpected event. Looking at two human figures (dolls), one positioned close to them and the other far away from them, they are asked, “Which figure is larger?” They invariably guess the farther one is smaller, but when the two figures are brought together they are exactly the same size! This sets the stage for seeing how the sizes of things in the sky might be difficult to know. In the planetarium, children observe the Sun go across the sky in a day with time sped up. They imagine what they might be doing at different times of day. When night falls, they learn to identify the Big Dipper. In the rest of the program children see and discuss what it would be like to actually fly into space on a spaceship. Movies of the Space Shuttle are used for illustration and to spark questions.

The parts of the Flying High show are:

    1. Far Away Things Look Small

    2. A Fast Day

    3. Finding the Big Dipper

    4. Rocket Launch

    5. Pitch, Roll, and Yaw

    6. Weightlessness

    7. Satellites

    8. Extravehicular Activity

    9. Shuttle Landing

To Index

Journey to the Moon

Journey to the Moon, designed for children ages 4–6, aims for the audience to experience what it is like to travel to the Moon. Children observe a cycle of moon phases and learn the names of the phases, enjoy a brief moon phase story, and then discuss how we could get there and what would we need to take with us. In preparation for a make-believe trip to the Moon, children don make-pretend space suits vests with air tanks on them. They see movies of real astronauts putting on space suits, the giant Saturn V rocket, and blast off in a pretend launch. They “experience” weightlessness, and look at Earth from space. The pretend three-day excursion to the Moon is accomplished by the children marching in line out of the planetarium and making one orbit of the planetarium before re-entering. An adult leader leads the group, while the presenter changes the “set” in the planetarium to make it into a make-pretend Moon landscape, illuminating the planetarium with UV or unusual colored lights, and scattering some fake Moon rocks (foam rocks) around the floor. When the children re-enter the planetarium-as-the-Moon, they see video of what the Moon is like—astronauts hopping around and collecting rocks. The children also hop around and collect the Moon rocks on the floor. Finally, they see a movie of the Lunar Rover and then lift off and return safely to Earth.

The parts of the Journey to the Moon show are:

    1. Watching The Moon’s Phases

    2. Moon Story

    3. How Do We Get There?

    4. Blast Off!

    5. What Is The Moon Like?

    6. On The Moon

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Constellations Tonight

Constellations Tonight, designed for public audiences and for students in grades 4 and above, begins by inviting the students to locate a familiar star pattern, the Big Dipper. In the Star Map activity, students learn how to use a star map for finding specific constellations in the planetarium sky. They take turns pointing out their constellations to the entire audience. Short constellation myths made be told for some of the constellations. And for selected constellations, telescope views of star clusters, nebulae, and galaxies in the constellation may be shown. The beauty of this program is that each student walks away from the planetarium with a valuable tool and skill for finding constellations in the real night sky.

The parts of the Constellations Tonight show are:

    1. Sky Map Activity

    2. Mythology

    3. Motion of the Stars

Adjustable Star Wheels that can be set for any time of day, any date of the year are available at

Associated classroom activities are:

    • Astronomy Quiz

    • Creating Constellations

    • More Mythology.

    • Using Star Maps

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Red Planet Mars

Red Planet Mars, designed for public audiences and students in grades 4 and above, starts out with the audience identifying Mars as the ancient Greek astronomers did, observing its motion from night to night as it wanders among the “fixed” stars. Then they see how Mars looks through a telescope, with a special effect movie simulating rippling distortions in the image caused by Earth’s atmosphere. They sketch Mars as astronomers did during the first half of the twentieth century when there was the Great Canal Debate. The new science of “exobiology,” inspires an activity in which audience members invent creatures that might have evolved on a Mars-like planet. The program concludes with findings NASA missions to Mars and a look towards the future exploration of Mars by spacecraft and by humans.

The parts of the Red Planet Mars show are:

    1. Finding Red Stars

    2. Find the Planet Mars

    3. Telescope Views, Observing and Sketching

    4. NASA Mars Missions

    5. Exobiology

Associated classroom activities are:

    • Creatures from Omicron

    • Red Planet Quiz

    • Simulating the Solar System

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Colors From Space

Colors From Space, designed for public audiences and for students in grades 3 and above, begins by the audience observing and pointing out stars of different colors and finding out how the color of a star is related to its temperature. They pretend to go to a planet orbiting a red star and observe how the colors of objects appear different, depending upon what color of light is shining on them. Then they use light filters to discover how filters allow astronomers to see particular details in astronomical objects, and diffraction gratings to analyze the colors and determine what stars are made of by examining emission spectra. Finally, the audience finds out ways that astronomers detect invisible colors of light that are beyond the ordinary visible rainbow colors of light.

The parts of the Colors From Space show are:

    1. What Color Are Your Blue Jeans?

    2. The Magic Cloth

    3. Colors and Temperatures of Stars

    4. Filters

    5. What Stars Are Made Of ? (Diffraction Gratings)

    6. Invisible Colors; Secret Message (UV Light)

Associated classroom activities are:

    • Mixing Colors

    • Spectroscopes (simple)

    • Spectroscopes (advanced)

    • Activities can be found in the Great Explorations in Math and Science (GEMS) guide, Color Analyzers, available from the Lawrence Hall of Science’s Discovery Corner store

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How Big Is The Universe?

How Big Is The Universe? designed for public audiences and for students in grades 4 and above, deals with the fact that many distances to objects are given to us as fact, but we can’t help but ask, “How do you really know how far away that thing is, especially when the distance claimed is so outrageously large?” How do we measure the distances to extremely distant things? This show starts with the audience viewing objects ranging from microscopic to cosmic scales, and trying to guess what they are looking at. They view the mind-blowing journey to the outer reaches of the universe in Powers of Ten, then learn the real methods by which the distances in the film were determined: radar ranging, parallax measurements, behavior of Cepheid variable stars, and comparing apparent brightnesses of objects that are the same absolute brightness.

The parts of the How Big Is The Universe? show are:

    1. Guess What It Is...

    2. Powers of Ten

    3. Distance By Radar

    4. Distance By Parallax

    5. Light-Years

    6. Brightness of Stars

    7. Cepheid Variable Stars

Associated classroom activities are:

    • Ballooning Universe

    • Expanding Universe

    • Parallax

    • Question of Scale

    • Stretching Infinity

    • Your Galactic Address

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Astronomy of the Americas

Astronomy of the Americas explores the astronomical concepts of five cultures:

    • the Hupa of Northern California

    • the Plains People and Medicine Wheel, Wyoming

    • the Anasazi of Chaco Canyon, New Mexico

    • the Maya of Mexico and Central America

    • the Inca of Peru

As with people everywhere in the world, Native Americans observe the Sun, the Moon, the stars, and the planets. In all of the Native American astronomies included in this program, there is a common theme: horizon astronomy. Watching for the rising and setting of astronomical objects allows us to track time, keep calendars, follow the seasons, and better understand our place in the cycles of the cosmos. It would be very difficult to include all five cultures in a single program. Although the time of presentation will vary greatly according to local planetarium circumstance, the first section on the Hupa is longest, taking 30–40 minutes. A custom show can be created by combining selected cultures to feature.

The parts of the Astronomy of the Americas show are:

    1. Hupa People—Cultural Calendar

    2. Sunrise Watching—The Solar Year

    3. Medicine Wheel

    4. The Anasazi

    5. The Maya

    6. The Inca

Associated classroom activities are:

    • Aztec/Mayan Math

    • Morning & Evening Star

    • Observing Sunsets

To Index

Northern Lights

The aurora borealis (northern lights) and the aurora australis (southern lights) are beautiful displays of moving luminous colored patterns in the night sky seen in far northerly or southerly latitudes. To set the stage for in Northern Lights, we first look at “Seasons & Sunsets Above the Arctic Circle” to find out at what latitudes and at what times of year aurora are most likely to be seen, and learn about the phenomenon of the “midnight Sun.” A recorded narration by Norwegian Franck Pettersen describing an auroral storm, along with an aurora movie, transports the audience to Norway for a few minutes of aurora “theater.” The “scientific explanation” of aurora has changed in recent years owing to revealing results from NASA spacecraft missions. In the latest models, charged particles interact with Earth’s magnetosphere, which acts as a sort of electromagnetic dynamo that accelerates the particles along magnetic field lines onto Earth’s polar regions.

The parts of the Northern Lights show are:

    1. Seasons in the Arctic

    2. Predict Sunsets

    3. What Aurorae Look Like; Historical Interpretations

    4. Scientific Explanation

    5. Sun-Earth Magnetic Fields

    6. Spacecraft Studies of Aurorae

Associated classroom activities are:

    • Aurora Altitudes

    • Chief Morning Star

    • Colors of Aurorae

    • Aurora On Other Planets?

    • Travel Guide To The Northern Lights

    • Aurora Images On The Internet

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Stonehenge, a prehistoric stone monument in southern England, has strangely beautiful shapes and a rough symmetry. Above all, it is a mystery that has made Stonehenge an attraction and held fascination for centuries. Our Stonehenge show starts with the ideas of Gerald Hawkins, a young astronomer, who boasted in 1963 that he had “decoded” Stonehenge, and that it was an astronomical observatory and an eclipse calculator. The debate over the more speculative of Hawkins’ claims has still not ended, but his basic ideas have convinced most scholars that astronomy did indeed play a more important role in the design of Stonehenge than had been suspected, and has helped to stimulate a whole generation of investigators known as “archaeoastronomers.” This planetarium program, designed for public audiences and for students in grades 4 and above, aims to communicate important aspects of how science works and how new ideas are invented, explored, refined, and tested at ancient structures around the world.

The parts of the Stonehenge show are:

    1. Gerald Hawkins’ Guess

    2. Predicting Sunset

    3. Reconstructing Stonehenge

    4. Marking Risings and Settings

    5. Tracking Migration of Sunset

Associated classroom activities are:

    • Azimuth And Horizons

    • Horizon Calendar.

    • Solar Motion Demonstrator

    • Sunrises At Stonehenge

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Our Very Own Star

This is the first PASS program to have an extensive audio narration version of the script. We strongly encourage live presentation of the entire program with audience activities. But some planetariums, accustomed to pre-recorded programs or hybrid shows (part pre-recorded and part live) will appreciate the option to create a custom program from some or all of the parts. The program starts with beautiful views of the optical effects of sunlight in Earth’s atmosphere (rainbows, halos, sun dogs), simply as an artful, visually pleasing way to “get in the mood” for a show about the Sun. “The Sun as a Timekeeper” section focuses on views of the Sun without instruments and how the apparent paths of movement of the Sun change during the day and from season to season. “Different Views of the Sun” jumps from sketches of the Sun by Galileo to views from NASA missions: New Horizons, Voyager, TRACE, SOHO, STEREO, and the Solar Dynamics Observatory. The audience sees sunspots and learns that the numbers of sunspots can vary in cyclical patterns and that movie sequences of sunspots can be used to measure the Sun’s rotation rate. Models of Earth and Sun with magnets embedded to create magnetic fields show the audience the difference between the magnetic field of Earth (a dipole) and that of the Sun (magnets arranged in sunspot pairs with associated magnetic loops).

The parts of the Our Very Own Star show are

    1. The Sun As A Timekeeper

    2. Views of the Sun

    3. Sunspots; Differential Rotation

    4. A Magnetic Earth Around a Magnetic Sun

Associated classroom activities are may be found at under “Learning Resources”

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Who “Discovered” America?

When asked, “Who discovered America?” many people answer, “Columbus, of course!” Others say “the Indians” were here first. Who is right? Are there other groups that might also claim to be “discoverers” of the Americas? The answer depends partly on the meaning of the word “discover.” This program takes audiences on a fascinating journey into the past to find answers to such questions as:

    • What did Columbus actually do, and why did he think he had found the Indies?

    • How did Europeans of 1492 use compasses and quadrants to navigate, and how could they determine their latitude and longitude by observing the sky?

    • Which groups of people came to the Americas long ago?

    • What does it mean to “discover” something?

In the program, audiences will learn celestial navigation techniques, such as using kamals (used by Arabic and North African sailors) and quadrants to measure the altitude angle of the North Star to determine latitude. They will also learn how compasses and celestial events—such as a lunar eclipse—can be used to determine how far east or west one has traveled on Earth. The audience may recognize prevalent misconceptions concerning Columbus, such as the idea that he proved the world is round, and the impression that he treated the natives with kindness and respect.

The parts of the Who “Discovered” America? show are:

    1. Getting Sky Oriented

    2. Navigating Tools: Your Hand; The Kamal; The Compass

    3. Columbus’ Navigating Tools

    4. Latitude and Longitude

    5. Summary of Discoverers of America

    6. Consequences of Discovery

Associated classroom activities are:

    • How Big Is Earth?

    • Model Lunar Eclipse

    • Questionnaire

    • What Shape Is Earth?

    • What’s Your Latitude?

    • Who Was Right?

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Moons of the Solar System

In Moons of the Solar System, designed for public audiences and for students in grades 3 and above, the audience observes how the Moon changes position and apparent shape during a two-week time period. They then model the Earth-Moon-Sun system with a light in the center of the planetarium representing the Sun, a hand held ball as the Moon, and the student’s own head as the Earth. This is the best way to gain understanding why the Moon goes through phases, as well as understanding lunar and solar eclipses. Then the audience observes the moons of Jupiter, watching the moons change positions from night to night and drawing conclusions about the relationship between orbital period and orbital radius. The last part of the program is a tour of the Solar System to see the moons of each planet through the eyes of spacecraft that have visited those planets. Images from NASA missions including Viking, Voyager, Galileo, and Cassini are featured.

The parts of the Moons of the Solar System show are:

    1. Observe and Explain Phases of the Moon

    2. The Moon Through a Telescope

    3. Jupiter’s Galilean Moons

    4. Tour of Moons

Associated classroom activities are:

    • Jupiter’s Moon Phases

    • Lunar Settlements

    • Meteoroids

    • Moon Map

To Index

Strange Planets

Strange Planets is a program designed for public audiences and for students in grades 4 and above about finding extrasolar planets. The show aims for the audience to understand the difficulties of finding extrasolar planets that are very far away and very dim compared to the stars they orbit, and to understand how those difficulties are overcome by modern astronomy techniques: the spectroscopic and the transit methods. We focus especially on the transit method and the Kepler Mission.

The parts of the Strange Planets show are:

    1. Stars With Planets

    2. Planet Finding: Spectroscopic Method

    3. Transiting Planets

    4. Habitable Zones and Kepler’s Laws

    5. Finding An Earthlike Planet; Interpreting Light Curves

    6. NASA Kepler Mission

Associated classroom activities may be found on the NASA Kepler website:

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The Planetarium Educator’s Workshop Guide

The Planetarium Educator’s Workshop Guide is intended as a tool for enhancing planetarium education and entertainment for any audience and any occasion. It is for any group of educators interested in new techniques for presenting astronomy and space science to students. It aims to enable educators to involve students in active investigations during planetarium programs, including public shows.

The Planetarium Educator’s Workshop Guide has the following modules:

    1. Communication

    2. A Framework

    3. Organizations

    4. How Students See It

    5. Questions

    6. Activities

    7. Creating a Program

    8. Teaching Curriculum

    9. Action Plan

An individual teacher may find the Guide useful, but it is may be more effective (and enjoyable) for a group of people willing to spend a few hours sharing ideas and challenging each other’s assumptions. Tips for presenting a workshop are in Module 9.

[This product is currently available for free on the PASS website: ]