Barlow Planetarium offers indoor journeys into outer space. These 3-D surround-sound shows are interactive, with buttons you push to become part of the action. For example, you can choose the order in which you think the planets are lined up closest to the sun.
Afternoons bring public shows within this dome on the campus of University of Wisconsin Fox Valley in Menasha. Programming also includes family nights, school field trips and special events with shows about planets, constellations and other astronomy-related subjects. Cosmic Colors reveals how astronomers use colors to understand science, and a quarterly Wisconsin Sky Show conveys current news about Wisconsin skies with a “star talk” afterward. There are even cartoons such as Lifestyles of the Stars and Larry the Cat in Space. During the winter, the laser rock shows are a hit—psychedelic light shows set to the music of bands like Led Zeppelin, the Beatles and Pink Floyd.
When director Alan Peche arrived here five years ago after designing and opening the Saunders Planetarium in Tampa, Florida, yearly attendance at the Barlow was only 20,000. In 2012, nearly 35,000 people stepped inside the dome to view the magnificent night sky, and a recent survey of college planetariums placed the Barlow in the top 25 percent. Alan modestly attributes this success to accessibility: Prior to his arrival, public shows were only offered two days a week. In any case, the 15-year-old facility is now one of the premier planetariums in Wisconsin. (Tip: Although you can see from any of the 100 seats in the house, some offer better vantage points than others. Ask your guide to point out the best viewing area.)