Downing Planetarium

Program Descriptions

Our programs cover a wide range of topics, from ancient sky lore to the latest exciting astronomical discoveries. All programs include a live tour of the constellations conducted by the planetarium operator.

Information: 559-278-4121 * Reservations/Field Trips: 559-278-4071 *

Back to the Moon for Good:In the years from 1969 to 1972, twelve Americans walked on the Moon.  Now it is time to go back to the Moon, for good.  Learn about the history of lunar exploration, and the Moon's resources.  Discover what humanity's future on the Moon might hold.  See how a competition among privately funded international teams is leading to a new era of lunar exploration.  Narrated by Tim Allen this program presents the Google Lunar XPRIZE, and the personal stories of competition and collaboration it inspires.

Bad Astronomy:Join Phil Plait, the "Bad Astronomer," as he investigates several astronomical myths and misconceptions, including UFOs, horoscopes, and the Moon landing "hoax," as well as common astronomical errors in the movies. A fun, informative program for the whole family. Grades 5 - Adult

Bear Tales:This delightful program is the perfect way to introduce children to the constellations and the Greek mythology associated with the many star pictures in our sky. This program also covers the importance of the North Star and the daily motion of the stars. Grades 1 - 3

Blown Away: The Wild World of Weather:Blown Away gives audiences an incredible look at the weather of our planet Earth in all its many forms. Investigate clouds, tornadoes, lightning, and hurricanes; discover the cause of the seasons we experience on Earth; fly into space to examine the affect the Sun has on our atmosphere; swim with a water droplet through the water cycle; and venture into the "weather kitchen" to find out the "ingredients" necessary to brew up a thunderstorm. Grades 4 - 8

The Case of the Disappearing Planet:Join Detective Skye Watcher as she examines the changing status of objects we call "planets." What exactly makes an object a planet? Why has that definition changed over the years? The program not only covers Pluto, but the temporary planetary status of asteroids as well. The tally of "planets" in our Solar System has been going up and down for hundreds of years! Grades 2 - 6

Cosmic Colors:Cosmic Colors will take you on a journey across the entire electromagnetic spectrum.  Discover the many reasons for color--like why the sky is blue and why Mars is red.  Take a tour within a plant leaf and journey inside the human eye.  Investigate x-rays by voyaging to a black hole and cross the event horizon.  You will even see the actual color of a dinosaur--based on recent evidence.  Get ready for an amazing adventure under a rainbow of cosmic light!

Destination: Pluto:Go on a voyage from the Sun to Pluto with Captain Smith and his crew, and explore all the wonders of the Solar System. Along the way, view recently-discovered moons, mysterious ice-worlds, planets of rock and gas, hazardous asteroids and beautiful comets. Find out how the most distant objects in the Solar System were discovered, and learn about Pluto's recent reclassification as a dwarf planet. Destination: Pluto is a journey of discovery for space travelers of all ages. Grades 3 - Adult

Dinosaurs:These mighty creatures ruled the Earth, seas and air for over 150 million years before their extinction 65 million years ago. Learn how scientists have been forced to rethink their understanding of dinosaurs in light of fossil evidence suggesting that these creatures were warm-blooded, quick-moving, social animals. This program also addresses the mystery of the sudden extinction of the dinosaurs. Grades 4 - 6

Dragon Skies:A young boy Emperor of China does not see the importance of learning astronomy from his tutor until one night the Great Azure Dragon of the East comes to life and takes him on a magical journey through the stars. As we experience this journey with him, we learn about the importance of astronomical observations to the ancient Chinese culture, hear one of their legends associated with the stars, and even experience a supernova which was well documented by Chinese astronomers in 1054 A.D. Grades 3 - 6

The Endless Horizon:This program explores mankind's innate desire to explore the land, sea, sky, and space in order to better understand our place in the Universe. Hear stories of exploration from ancient times to the Apollo Moon landings, and beyond. Featured explorers include Columbus, Captain James Cook, Galileo, Newton, and many others who have shaped our view of the world--and the Universe. Grades 5 - Adult

Escher's Universe:This fulldome program is based on the life and work of the Dutch artist M.C. Escher.  See Escher's use of mathematics, astronomy, optics, crystallography, and geometry on the dome as we explore the Universe.  Follow Escher on his visit to Alhambra, Spain as he discovers the work of the Moorish artists from which he drew inspiration. 

Explorers of Mauna Kea:Come to the island of Hawaii and discover the telescopes of Mauna Kea. Learn about the exciting research being conducted there by astronomers and explore the Universe with them. Grades 5 - 12

The Great Space Treasure HuntFinding a treasure map with our alien friend Bleamer is just the beginning of this space adventure. Journey through the Milky Way Galaxy, past constellations, and hear the story of Cassiopeia the Queen. After exploring the Sun and planets of our Solar System, we find our beautiful blue and white "treasure." This colorful program features lively songs and encourages audience participation. Grades Pre-K - 2

Honey, I Shrunk the Solar System:Our most popular show, Honey tells the story of a girl named Abby, who decides to build a model of the Solar System for the Science Fair. Once she completes her model, she sends her father on a mission to explore each of the planets. Test your Solar System knowledge along the way. Grades 3 - 6

Hubble Vision:This program is an overview of the most significant images and discoveries made by the Hubble Space Telescope from its launch in 1990 to the present. The great wealth of Hubble's discoveries provides a fascinating tour of the cosmos--from Earth orbit to the limits of the observable universe--featuring planets, star birth, supernovae, galaxy collisions, black holes, and more. Grades 7 - Adult

Images of the Infinite: The Hubble Space Telescope:This program highlights the history and top science findings of the Hubble Space Telescope, as well as taking you on an unforgettable tour through the Solar System, the Milky Way Galaxy, and to the limits of the visible Universe using the spectacular Hubble images. Grades 7 - Adult

In Search of New Worlds:For thousands of years, humans have wondered about the possibility of other worlds. Since the invention of the telescope, astronomers have discovered new worlds in our Solar System: Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto. After a long and difficult search, astronomers have recently confirmed the existence of worlds orbiting stars beyond the Sun. This program explains how astronomers use physics to detect these worlds, and how they plan to determine whether the new planets are hospitable to life. Grades 6 - Adult

Larry Cat in Space:This playful program for young children is about Larry, an inquisitive cat who likes to watch the sky. When he finds our that one of his human family members, Diana, is moving to the Moon to work as a lunar geologist, he doesn't want to be left behind. Will Larry Cat find a way to be with Diana again? Throughout the show, Larry shares his "cat's-eye-view" of the Moon, backyard astronomy, space travel, and what it would be like to live on another world. Grades Pre-K - 2

MarsQuest:This program traces the history of Mars from the early observations of Schiaparelli and Lowell, whose imagined "canals" inspired science fiction stories about Martians, to modern observations and mission findings from Viking, Pathfinder, and Mars Global Surveyor, which have given us new insight into the climate, weather, and terrain on the Red Planet. The show also examines the possibility of human exploration on Mars, examining where on Earth we can prepare for future crewed missions, and what the first landing may be like. Grades 5 - Adult

Midnight's Canvas:Take a whirlwind tour through the history of astronomical observations, from the first wonderings by prehistoric peoples, to the explosion of information available with the introduction of the telescope, to more modern developments such as multi-wavelength observations and manned space missions. Along the way, learn how historical and social events influenced the advancement of technology and scientific discovery. Grades 6 - Adult

Moonbound 2020:This program chronicles the history of NASA's manned spaceflight program, focusing on the many Space Shuttle missions, and the new plan to put humans back on the Moon by 2020. Included are milestones such as the first American woman in space and the first untethered spacewalk, as well as discussions of the Challenger and Columbia disasters, and how they shaped the future of NASA's space program. Grades 5 - Adult

Oceans in Space:This program focuses on the origin and evolution of life on Earth, and the search for life elsewhere in the Universe. What conditions existed on an early Earth that allowed life to flourish? Could similar conditions have existed that would allow life to develop on Mars, or on Jupiter's moon Europa? The program also examines methods of detecting planetary systems around other stars, and our search for life outside our own Solar System. Grades 6 - Adult

The Planets:With the most up-to-date information, The Planets takes audiences on a grand tour of the Solar System to see amazing images of our neighbor worlds. Is there life on Mars? Do other planets have hurricanes? What makes up the rings of Saturn? What lies beyond Pluto? How was our Solar System formed, and are there other solar systems out there in the stars? Get answers to these fascinating questions and more. Grades 6 - Adult

RingWorld:Through breathtaking images and computer simulations, RingWorld tells the history of observation and exploration of Saturn, and gives a detailed account of the Cassini mission, and what astronomers and engineers hope it will accomplish. Take a trip with the Cassini spacecraft to study the planet Saturn, its beautiful rings, and its many fascinating moons. Learn how Cassini will communicate with Earth and send images and data back home. Study the surface of Titan with Cassini's Huygens probe to discover if it resembles an ancient Earth. Grades 5 - Adult

Season of Light:This family-oriented program focuses on winter holiday traditions from many cultures, and how they have been used for millennia to light up this darkest and coldest of seasons. It also showcases some of our more lighthearted customs, such as giving gifts, kissing under the mistletoe, and decorating Christmas trees. The program highlights some of the winter constellations, demonstrates the cause of the four seasons and the meaning of the winter solstice, and even gives some astronomical possibilities for the Star of Bethlehem. Grades K - Adult

Skywatchers of Ancient Mexico:This show examines the early culture, astronomy and history of what is now called Mexico and Central America. Skywatchers will take you to colorful cities like Tenochtitlán and Chichén Itzá, with their large observatories and elaborate temples, as they were when they were the ruling centers of great civilizations. Learn about the importance of astronomical observations to these cultures, and hear stories from their mythology. Grades 6 - Adult

Spirits from the Sky: Thunder on the Land:This program takes the audience inside a Pawnee Earth lodge to join the chiefs in using the Smoke Hole to sight the stars of the Council-of-Chiefs passing overhead at dawn. The stars announce the annual cycle of rebirth and renewal. Out under the vast skies of the plains, the cycles of the Pawnee's stars determined the ceremonial year--from the first planting, to the summer buffalo hunt, through the harvest and the winter buffalo hunt. This program also depicts the Pawnee creation legend. Grades 5 - Adult

The Stargazer:This program showcases the life-cycles of stars, from their fiery births in clouds of gas and dust to their eventual demise. Featured in the program is Professor James Kaler of the University of Illinois. Dr. Kaler tells the story of how he became an astronomer, and some of the lessons he has learned from the stars over the years. Several other famous stargazers make appearances throughout the show as well. Grades 4 - 8

Stella: Adventures of a Black HoleJoin Stella the black hole and her friends in two short adventures featuring topics from star birth and stellar evolution to black holes and multi-wavelength astronomy. In the first episode, we find Stella fed up with the tabloids blaming her for everything that goes wrong in the Universe. She decides to give her reporter friend the scoop on black holes, hoping her personal story will clear up some public misconceptions. Next, we join Stella as she helps detective Joe Cosmos in his search for a missing star, and learn all about stellar evolution along the way. Grades 3 - 6

Two Small Pieces of Glass:This program puts the audience in the middle of a modern star party, experiencing the wonders that even a small amateur telescope can reveal. Learn about the invention of the telescope, how a telescope works, and how this important invention has developed and grown over hundreds of years—from the first primitive handheld telescope, to orbiting space telescopes, and gigantic modern ground-based telescopes. Grades 3 - Adult

Welcome to the Universe:Lean back, strap yourself in, and take a brief (10 minute) tour of the Universe. Travel through our Solar System, venture through star-filled nebulae, journey to the edge of the Milky Way Galaxy, and beyond. Grades K - 12 (Shown only with Daughter of the Stars and Star Date: Ancient Horizons)

Daughter of the Stars:This program is a collection of Native American sky stories, including the creation of the heavens and Earth from the Iroquois, the origin of the Sun and Moon from the Kutenai, and the cause of solar eclipses according to the Bella Coola. Learn how men traveled to the Moon to bring fire back to Earth for all the people in a legend from the Snake Indians. These stories will delight young and old alike. Grade 1 - 4

Star Date: Ancient Horizons:Explore the astronomy of the ancient Egyptians in this fascinating program. These people sought to explain the order of the Universe: the cycles of life and death, the annual flooding of the Nile, the succession of divine kings, and the nightly march of the stars across the sky. This quest to understand the cosmic order motivated the Egyptians to study the sky, worship celestial objects, and build their great pyramids. Grades 6 - Adult

Women in Astronomy: This program explores the many varied contributions women have made to the field of astronomy, from Hypatia in ancient times, to more recent groundbreaking discoveries by women such as Annie Jump Cannon, Jocelyn Bell, and Vera Rubin. Women in Astronomy chronicles the obstacles women have overcome, and examines the science behind the fascinating discoveries that propelled them to the cutting edge of research in astronomy. Grades 5 - Adult

The Wright Way to Fly:Follow the Wright brothers, Wilbur and Orville, from inquisitive children interested in flying kites and building toys, to successful bicycle shop owners, through the development of the first powered aircraft in 1903. This program, conceived as an interview with the two brothers shortly after their first successful flights, shows that their success depended not only on their intelligence, but also their hard work and determination, dedication to researching the science of flight, collaboration with other scientists, and reliance on the scientific method to make the most out of their experiments. Grades 4 - Adult