Four hundred years ago, the Italian astronomer, mathematician, and physicist Galileo first used a simple telescope to study the skies. In 2009, we celebrated the International Year of Astronomy to commemorate that important anniversary of scientific history.
While the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City is always a superb option in your personal quest to reach for the skies, New Jersey also has some top-notch planetariums and observatories of its own.
“There has been a lot of mention recently in the media about the sorry state of science education in the United States,” says Kevin Conod, astronomer and planetarium manager at the Newark Museum’s Dreyfuss Planetarium. “Astronomy is a great way to get kids interested in science, since it is so interdisciplinary. In our programs, we cover earth science, life science, astronomy, physics, and mythology.”
The Dreyfuss Planetarium was built in 1953 and was the first of its kind in the state. Since then, approximately 1.5 million people have visited its 50-seat star theater, which boasts a Zeiss ZKP3 star projector, capable of projecting up to 7,000 stars.
The Planetarium at Raritan Valley Community College in North Branch uses new digital equipment to take visitors beyond the more traditional, earthbound view.
“We can travel through our solar system more realistically,” says Jerry Vinski, director of The Planetarium. “We can recreate what Galileo saw.”
Another facility offering cutting-edge technology is the Planetarium at the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton. The 150-seat facility with reclining seats features a Full Dome Video with the visual ability to soar into space to view other planets and Earth itself.
In addition, amateur astronomy clubs at facilities such as the Sperry Observatory at Union County College and the Robert A. Schommer Astronomical Observatory at Rutgers offer their time and telescopes to the general public, taking visitors on tours of the nighttime sky.
The sky is chock full of bright stars, says Newark Museum’s Conod. Not to mention planets, galaxies, nebulae, constellations, and much more. Which makes any clear night a perfect time for stargazing.
Stargazing in New Jersey
Here is a listing of New Jersey planetariums and observatories. Some offer shows that require reservations, so it’s a good idea to call ahead and check schedules. Admission prices at planetariums that are part of museums may be added to museum admission. If planetariums and observatories pique your interest in stargazing and you'd like to learn more, think about joining one of the United Astronomy Clubs in New Jersey.
The Longo Planetarium
The County College of Morris
214 Center Grove Rd., Randolph, NJ
The Newark Museum
49 Washington St., Newark, NJ
New Jersey State Museum Planetarium
205 West State St., Trenton, NJ
Raritan Valley Community College Planetarium
118 Lamington Rd., Branchburg, NJ
Robert J. Novins Planetarium
Ocean County College
College Drive, Toms River, NJ
Science Hall, Rowan University
201 Mullica Hill Rd., Glassboro, NJ
Peyton Hall Astronomical Observatory
Temporarily relocated to Green Hall, Third Floor
Ivy Lane, Princeton, NJ
Many observatories don’t open if it’s raining or cloudy, so call ahead if the weather is questionable. (Note: please call ahead to confirm all information such as times and dates.)
North Jersey Astronomical Group
Montclair State University, Richardson Hall
One Normal Ave., Montclair, NJ
Paul H. Robinson Observatory
Edwin E. Aldrin Astronomical Center
Voorhees State Park, Lebanon Township, NJ
Robert A. Schommer Astronomical Observatory
Serin Physics Laboratories, Busch Campus of Rutgers University
136 Frelinghuysen Road, Piscataway, NJ
John W. H. Simpson Observatory
Washington Crossing State Park
355 Washington Crossing, Titusville, NJ
William Miller Sperry Observatory
Union County College
1033 Springfield Ave., Cranford, NJ
William D. McDowell Observatory
2 DeKorte Park Plaza, Lyndhurst, NJ
United Astronomy Club of New Jersey
333 State Park Rd., Hope, NJ
Mary Ann McGann is freelance writer from New Jersey. She has two children.