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Adler Planetarium Celebrates 83rd Anniversary

Opening day for the Adler Planetarium on May 12, 1930. (Photo supplied by the Adler Planetarium)

Opening day for the Adler Planetarium on May 12, 1930. (Photo supplied by the Adler Planetarium)

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CHICAGO (CBS) – The Adler Planetarium in Chicago celebrates its 83rd Anniversary today. When it opened in 1930, Alder had the distinction of being the first planetarium in the Western Hemisphere. The institution is planning another first this year and some of its rarely-seen collections will be part of the show.

“This book is one of the most important books in the history of cartography,” said Marv Bolt, Vice President of Collections, Adler Planetarium. Underground and behind locked doors, he showed off one of the planetarium’s treasured possessions – a bound compilation from 1661 that includes a map of the night sky with drawings of the constellations.

It’s yellowed but in remarkably good condition and just one of hundreds of astronomical artifacts in Adler’s collection. There’s also a 400 year old brass globe, the oldest tabletop planetarium in the world, featuring the Earth, the Sun and the Moon while tracking the Earth’s revolutions in real time.

The sky charts and instruments will go display as part of “Cosmic Wonder,” the planetarium’s marquee summer attraction. Bolt says visitors will get to explore the night sky in one of the most immersive planetarium shows ever created.

“The impression is the sky coming down on you in a way that people might want to duck,” said Bolt. “It immerses you in the sky in a way which is really powerful.” For the first time, audiences will be able to experience imagery from the Hubble Telescope in full resolution and in the real context of space. The show will be light years ahead of what the first Adler visitors experienced back in 1930.

“The first shows were really about pinpoints of light moving across the heavens and that was sufficient for an audience 80 some years ago to just enjoy that cutting edge technology.”

Bolt says the first audiences still left wowed, and in its first year, Adler hosted 700,000 visitors. It averages about 400,000 a year now.

“We have pictures here of the opening day crowd and they are lined outside the building and down the road just waiting to see this new, miraculous, wonderful thing called a planetarium that they heard about but hadn’t seen for themselves.”

Recent milestones in astronomy, like being able to see far away galaxies and watch live video from another planet, was the stuff of science fiction in 1930. What will the universe reveal to Adler visitors over the next 80-years?

“Terrific question. Life on other planets. Have we found it? Is it intelligent life?”

Cosmic Wonder opens later this week at the Adler Planetarium.

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