IO Staerkel spacesuit

A visitor is shown with the NASA spacesuit at Parkland College’s Staerkel Planetarium in Champaign.

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The William M. Staerkel Planetarium at Parkland College offers programs for different audiences throughout the year.

Starting this week, “Winter Prairie Skies” runs at 7 p.m. Fridays during the first months of 2020. During this show, a live narrator presents what can be seen during the longest nights of the year.

At 8 p.m. in January and February, it will be accompanied by “From Earth to the Universe,” a video designed for full-dome projection. It was produced by the European Southern Observatory to give people perspective about their place in the cosmos.

During March and April, a show about the search for dark matter, “Phantom of the Universe,” will play on the dome.

The planetarium hosts speakers for the James B. Kaler Science Lecture Series at 7 p.m. on the first Friday of the month. Topics for the spring semester are supermassive black holes, Feb. 7; tornadoes and storm chasing, March 6; and birdwatching, April 3.

The planetarium also has shows for children at 7 p.m. Saturday nights, including “Amazing Stargazing,” an introduction to all of the objects that can be seen at night. After that show completes its run in February, it will be followed by “One World, One Sky: Big Bird’s Adventure.” The “Sesame Street” production also stars Elmo and their friend from China, Hu Hu Zhu.

During school holidays, the planetarium is open for matinees. On Presidents Day, Feb. 17, and during spring break on March 19, “Sunstruck, Out There: The Quest for Extrasolar Worlds,” and “Winter Prairie Skies” will run in the morning and afternoon.

On selected afternoons during the spring, the planetarium will play shows in new formats. The planetarium is running sensory-friendly shows at 2 and 3 p.m. Feb. 29 that will feature “lights up, sound down” settings and have a relaxed atmosphere where patrons can come, go and move around as needed. Sensory-friendly shows are great for guests with autism spectrum-disorder, sensory sensitivities or young children.

At 2 and 3 p.m. March 28, the planetarium will present shows in Spanish by a native speaker. In addition to playing the Spanish audio tracks for “One World, One Sky” and a show about the cultural traditions of Mayan Archaeoastronomy, the presenter will use the available time after each show to give a live-narrated tour of the night sky in Spanish.

Contact the Staerkel Planetarium for ticket information, show schedules and to learn more about reserving the dome for private events. Call the hotline at 217-351-2446 for the current schedule or visit

The Staerkel Planetarium is also a member of the Champaign County Museums Network. More information can be found at

On tap

— Matinees of “Sunstruck, Out There,” and Winter Prairie Skies on school holidays: Feb. 17 and March 19

— Sensory-friendly shows playing at 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. on Feb. 29

— Shows for Spanish-speaking audiences at 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. on March 28

Visit for more information or call 217-351-2446.

Erik Johnson is the director of the William M. Staerkel Planetarium at Parkland College. He can be reached at

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