After nearly two years of closure, the Orlando Science Center observatory is open once more. For the first time, you can now view the stars during a captivating new private observatory and planetarium experience. This date-worthy experience includes guided viewing of celestial objects via a super-powered telescope inside the Science Center dome, followed by an immersive planetarium journey through time and space. Enjoy an intimate evening beneath the stars on a date night that’s truly out of this world.
An Intimate Date Night Experience
We had the opportunity to head up to the observatory earlier this month during a hosted visit and were absolutely wowed by the experience.
The observatory was open to the general public pre-COVID, and with that came an often-crowded platform and limited viewing of just one fixed point in the sky. The new private setting, on the other hand, allows for a much more personalized experience with viewing of multiple points of interest. We had the chance to ask questions, learn on the go, and take our time admiring some seriously stunning views. Plus, we enjoyed the flexibility of seeing the stars when conditions were best. If skies were cloudy, for example, we might start with the planetarium and try the observatory later in the evening.
Stargazing in the Observatory
Skies were clear upon our arrival at the Orlando Science Center, so we headed to the observatory first for a little stargazing. We started off with a relatively small hobby telescope on a balcony overlooking downtown Orlando. Our knowledgeable guide for the evening explained some key features of the telescope and how it works, then pointed out a few visible celestial bodies, like Venus, Saturn, and Jupiter.
As we gazed through the eight inch lens, our guide described some of the things we were looking at. For example, we were able to clearly see the four Galilean moons surrounding Jupiter. The moons, of course, are named after Galileo, who discovered their presence. I was impressed not only by the otherworldly views, but also by our guide’s endless knowledge of planets, solar systems, and even galaxies.
Next, we climbed a narrow spiral staircase into the red-lit dome of the Orlando Science Center. In the center of the platform was a massive telescope, its lens angled up toward the ceiling. This custom creation is the largest publicly accessible refractor telescope in the state. The ten inch lens helps to bring in more light, and the extra-long scope allows for greater magnification of planets and other celestial objects.
As we stood in awe, the panels of the iconic Science Center dome creaked open to reveal a generous slice of the night sky. Once again, we stepped up for incredible viewing of the planets, with fascinating narration and technical details from our guide. My favorite part of the experience was seeing Saturn in such high clarity; we could even see the stripes on its rings.
An Immersive Planetarium Journey
Following the observatory tour, we visited the planetarium for an immersive journey through time and space.
This is the first planetarium experience offered at the Orlando Science Center since the original planetarium closed a decade ago. Hosted inside a small inflatable dome, the new experience uses a digital projection system to map real images taken from space. It's a much more intimate, immersive setting than your typical theater planetarium. Best of all, you get to decide where you want to go on your journey. Just name the place, and you can zoom through space to go see it!
We saw constellations, planets, and even a zoomed out view of the Milky Way as we sped around the galaxy. Our group visited mysterious Pluto, glimpsed mountains on Mars, and took another look at those rings around Saturn. We even swung by Earth for a little satellite’s-eye view of home. Finally, we ended on a dizzying representation of all the known galaxies, shown as tiny yellow dots in a vast dark space. All the while, our guide continued to wow us with his own galaxy of space-related knowledge.
DETAILS + TICKETS
Private observatory and planetarium experiences are available for booking through March 5, 2022. Private visits are available on Fridays and Saturdays at 8:30pm and 9:45pm, with the exception of December 24-25, 2021 and December 31, 2021-January 1, 2022.
Cost: $250 for up to 5 people ($200 special pricing for Orlando Science Center members). Additional guests can join for $30/adult and $25/child (member pricing $25/adult and $20/child) up to a maximum of 10 guests per group. Feel free to bring some friends and make this a group date.
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Disclosure: This experience was provided by Orlando Science Center at no cost to the writer.
Feature image credit: Orlando Science Center (photo by Roberto Gonzalez); all other photos by Beth Bell