Planetarium introduces new shows, continues previous productions for summer

Emma Gray


The William M. Staerkel Planetarium, located in the M-wing, will be introducing two new shows this summer, “The Little Star That Could” and “Seeing!”

“The Little Star That Could” is a new animated children’s show that was originally written and produced at the St. Louis Science Center on slides before another company, Audio Visual Imagineering, made it into a full dome show. It follows a star on its journey to look for planets.

“We’re opening for our matinees a brand new kids’ show,” said David Leake, director of the planetarium. “It’s about this cute little star who is out looking for planets…He comes across these other stars that are different colors and different sizes. You have Big Daddy, which is a big red giant star. You have Pearl, who is an older star who is about ready to blow up—go supernova. Then, there’s a double star, the two stars are different colors…[And there is] Little Star, who is ‘star’ of the show.”

Little Star is average-sized compared to all of the other stars who are very big or very small. He finds out that this is a good thing, however, while he is looking for planets. 

“Our sun is average and because of that we can have planets,” Leake said. “Average is good.”

Since the show is animated, all of the stars are able to come to life and talk.

The other new show that the planetarium will be introducing this summer is “Seeing!” It was made by the Carl Zeiss Company, the same company that made the star machine at Parkland’s Planetarium. The show is narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson.

“It’s almost a biology show,” Leake said. “There’s astronomy in it, but a lot of it is what processes go on inside of our eyes and inside of our brains.”

The show answers questions about what happens to light, from its emission out of a star all the way to its processing by the neurons in the brain.

“It picks a star in the winter sky and what’s going on in the star to actually create this light,” Leake said.

The show is a very broad overview of what is going on, with simplified metaphors for how complicated processes work. It is at a level of understanding that is good for both older elementary schoolers and primarily middle schoolers and older.

The planetarium will also be continuing other shows that it has had in the past like “Prairie Skies” and “Solar System Safari.” “Coyote Explores the Earth, Moon & Sun” will be reopening in July.

“Prairie Skies” is a live show, narrated by one of the staff members at the planetarium that covers what can be seen in the sky by observers if they were to just step outside.

“‘Prairie Skies’ is a show that we’ve done since the place opened,” Leake said. “It’s basically a traditional live tour: if you were to go into your backyard tonight, what would you see. We talk about the constellations.”

Since the show is about what can be seen on any given night, it changes with the seasons.

“You see different star patterns,” Leake said. “In the winter we talk about Orion the Hunter and Taurus the Bull, in the spring we talk about Leo the Lion and that’s when the big dipper is at its highest, and then in the summer, when the Milky Way is prominent overhead…we’ll talk about Sagittarius and Scorpius and the summer triangle.”

The show also changes because of the nature of it being live, with some new tidbit of information or joke about the construction going on thrown in.

“All these ‘Summer Prairie Skies’ shows, you could come to three of them back to back, and you might here about the same constellations, but it’s a completely different presentation,” Leake said. “I don’t think I’ve ever done two shows the same.”

This show is a fun way to learn about what is in the sky, and teaches observers how to recog-nize different key stars and how to make up their interpretations of the constellations. It also features a short video about how the constellations got their names.

“Solar System Safari” is a fun animated show that uses personified planets to explore the solar system.

“[It’s] a little tour of the solar system, but it’s done in a unique way,” Leake says. “All the planets take on these odd personalities. There’s King Jupiter and Queen Saturn. Neptune is a pirate. Uranus is on crutches because…in real life, it’s been knocked over on its side…The sun is a detective with sun glasses.”

All of the shows are designed to be an hour long, with some live portion included in many of them.

“We try to design everything to fit into an hour timeslot,” Leake said. “If the show itself is 25 minutes long…We love to do live stuff in here so we would add on to it.”

“Coyote Explores the Earth, Moon & Sun” is an animated show, created at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, that teaches observers about the relationships between the Earth, moon, and sun, explaining concepts such as sunrise and moon phases. It is narrated by a coyote who must be taught to distinguish between myth and fact.

“Coyote is an interesting charac-ter,” Leake said. “He’s got some really strange ideas, like [the] sun is a big vacuum cleaner, so when it comes up in the morning it sucks up all the darkness…The idea is to talk about [why] people have these misconceptions, these wrong ideas, but [also] here’s really what’s going on.”

The show is named after the fact that there are a lot of coyotes in Native American star lore.

“If you look at a lot of Native American stories, if something goes wrong or shouldn’t be that way, it usually gets blamed on a coyote,” Leake said.

One of the stories in the show is about the importance Coyote played in creating the constellations accord-ing to Native America stories.

“Coyote supposedly helped put up the pictures of the animals into the sky but then he got impatient so he just threw the rest of them up there,” Leake said. “Which is why the stars don’t look like what they’re supposed to. But, since Coyote doesn’t see his own picture up there, that’s why he howls at night.”

Besides the shows, the planetarium is also partnered with the Champaign-Urbana Astronomical Society, which does open houses once a month. They also host other events around town.

“We partner with the local [astronomy] club and we’ll do programs at like Middle Fork Forest Preserve,” Leake said. “Technically, [the astronomy club] is a Champaign Park District group, but they actually meet here…[T]hey have an observatory southwest of town.”

The shows will be held either as matinees or as evening shows. Matinees take place at 1 and 2 p.m. Tuesdays and then at 10 and 11 a.m. Thursdays, while evening shows take place at 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. Fridays for the summer months of June and July.

Tickets are $6 for adults and $5 for students, seniors, and children under 12. Special pricing is applicable for large groups and for those seeing two shows.

More information and schedules for the planetarium can be found at, while additional info on the Champaign-Urbana Astronomical Society can be found at