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Portable Planetarium

NOTE: As of March 16, 2020, we are not currently offering planetarium programs until current health advisories allow.

The Geophysical Institute Education Outreach group offers basic astronomy education through a team of volunteers who deliver exciting digital presentations via the StarLab digital portable planetarium.  Presentations are available to schools, civic groups, and other nonprofit community organizations. Staff time and travel must be paid by the hosting organization for presentations outside of the Fairbanks North Star Borough. To arrange a presentation for your group, contact the GI Education Outreach office at 907-474-1910.

School Presentations

Students enter the UAF Planetarium
Photo by Roger Topp and Jennifer Arseneau

Planetarium presentations are available for grades K-12. Programs illustrating grade-appropriate concepts about stars, planets and space science are 20-40 minutes in length. Complementary classroom lessons may be available.


Community Science Night

As part of our visit, we offer an evening of fun and learning for the whole community. Participants enjoy hands-on activities outside the dome as well as planetarium shows inside the dome.

Activities led by local volunteers include Van Gogh’s Starry Night, Solar System on a String, Constellation Tube, Glow in the Dark Poster and Build an Astrolabe.

Communities Visited

In collaboration with grant partners and schools throughout the state, the planetarium has visited the following locations:


Aurora Storm Planetarium Movie


Photo by Roger Topp and Jennifer Arseneau

With NASA funding, The GI, in partnership with UA's Museum of the North, created an 11-minute planetarium movie about the Aurora Borealis. The movie briefly discusses the cultural significance of the aurora, provides an introduction to the science of the aurora, and describes some of the challenges of filming the aurora. Extensive time-lapse imaging of the urora is featured. Loch Ness Productions is the official distributor of Aurora Storm; the movie has no license fee and LNP charges a nominal amount for encoding into different formats. The dome master (available from LNP) is 2K pixels across, but a 1K-across QuickTime version can be given if you contact our office.

History of the Program

The Digital StarLab was purchased in 2007 with monies donated to the UA Foundation by BP and ConocoPhillips, and shortly thereafter faculty and staff at the GI began giving presentations at local schools. A NASA grant to the GI and UA's Museum of the North (PI Robert Herrick, GI; co-investigator Laura Conner, then at UAMN) provided staff salaries and travel monies for a four-year period, during which time the Museum of the North coordinated logistics and oversaw the program. After cessation of the NASA grant, the program has moved to a volunteer-supported model, with the GI Education Outreach group assuming responsibility for equipment maintenance and scheduling logistics. Robert Herrick, research professor at the GI, has overseen the program since its inception.