Astronomy For Dummies
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Planetariums, also called planetaria, are just right for beginning astronomers. They provide instructive exhibits and project wonderful sky shows indoors on the planetarium dome or on a huge screen. And many offer nighttime skywatching sessions with small telescopes, usually held outside in the parking lot, in an adjacent small observatory dome, or at a nearby public park.

Many have excellent shops where you can browse the latest astronomy books, magazines, and star charts. The planetarium staff can also direct you to the nearest astronomy club, which may even meet after hours in the planetarium itself.

The old Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City was torn down, but a fine new one has replaced it. Make this planetarium, which is part of the Rose Center for Earth and Space, a prime destination when you visit the Big Apple. It's pricey but still much cheaper than a Broadway show, and its stars never miss a cue or sing off key (just don't try to sneak in)! Visitor information is on the American Museum's website.

You can find a list of planetariums in the United States, with links to their websites. To search for planetariums worldwide, consult the almost-400-page directory maintained by the International Planetarium Society.

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Stephen P. Maran, PhD, is the retired assistant director of space sciences for information and outreach at the NASA-Goddard Space Flight Center. An investigator of stars, nebulae, and comets, he worked on the Hubble Space Telescope, Space Shuttle missions, Skylab, and other NASA projects.

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