Days Out: The South Downs Planetarium
Sunday 22 October 2006
A converted old barn in the grounds of Chichester High School, this is one of the largest planetaria in the country. It was created with money raised by enthusiasts - its patron is Sir Patrick Moore who lives nearby in Selsey. Staffed by volunteers, the planetarium puts on shows and displays in astronomy to inspire and interest both young and old.
The shows and presentations last about an hour and are not recommended for children under six. Older children will enjoy reclining in their Boeing 747 club class seat as Dr John Mason, a professional astronomer, re-creates the night sky, whizzing you around the universe via a star projector. Outside the star theatre there are displays of space exploration memorabilia and an IT suite, where anyone can have a look at satellite images.
Both children and adults will marvel at the vivid imaginations of those ancient Greeks. They named random clusters of stars (constellations) after things they thought they most resembled - a flying horse with no wings (Pegasus) or a bull (Taurus). There is an extensive astronomical library upstairs, which visitors are welcome to browse. The planetarium also provides astro-navigational training for the local yachting community and the Royal Navy. This means if their on-board computers fail someone on board can navigate the old-fashioned way.
Limited to hot and cold drinks from machines.
There is space for four wheelchairs in the star theatre. The centre prides itself on being able to devise a show for any specialist audience, and staff try to accommodate any requests. They recently put together a presentation for a group of blind people.
Adults £6, children (aged six-16), £4. Discounted rates for groups. There are shows every weekend and more during the school holidays. See the website southdowns.org.uk for the full programme.
How to get there
South Downs Planetarium and Science Centre, Chichester High School Campus, Chichester, West Sussex PO19 8RP (01243 774400; ticketline 07818 297292; southdowns.org).
By train and bus: The planetarium is five minutes' walk from both Chichester bus and rail stations. It is signposted from nearby Basin Road.
By road: turn of the A27 by- pass towards Chichester on the B2145, then turn left and left again into the school grounds. Parking is free.
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