If you are looking for a fun, inexpensive outing with kids, try the Fernbank Science Center and the Fernbank planetarium, which is one of the largest in the United States. The Fernbank Science Center, Atlanta, Ga. has free admission, while the planetarium shows are only a few dollars.
Fernbank Planetarium at the Fernbank Science Center
It’s easy to confuse the Fernbank Science Center with the Fernbank Museum of Natural History. Although the two share a first name, they are very different. The Fernbank Museum of Natural History is the newer museum with the dinosaurs, Fernbank IMAX theatre, NatureQuest indoor playground, Martinis and IMAX program, and the new Fernbank Forest Wildwoods.
The Fernbank Science Center is tucked in a residential neighborhood. It has some dinosaurs too, but its real claim to fame is an authentic Apollo spacecraft from the unmanned Apollo 6 Saturn V test flight, and the Fernbank planetarium. Another big difference is price. Like most museums in Atlanta, the Fernbank Museum of Natural History has an admission fee. Several Atlanta museums offer free admission days, but The Fernbank Science Center has free admission every day, however there is a fee for the planetarium shows.
The Fernbank planetarium, has a 500-seat theater with a 70 foot dome, and a digital projection system creating quite an immersive experience. The planetarium’s official name is the Jim Cherry Memorial Planetarium at Fernbank Science Center. I was curious about Jim Cherry. It took a little digging, but he was the superintendent of the Dekalb County School system during integration. The Dekalb school system owns the Fernbank Science Center. I assume Cherry did a pretty good job as superintendent since he has a school and planetarium named for him. Interestingly, the planetarium is the only major planetarium owned and operated by a public school system. It’s also one of the largest in the United States.
Fernbank Planetarium Shows
Shows at the Fernbank planetarium vary with the seasons. Although they cater to school groups, the theater is also open to the public. For those that are really into star gazing, you can purchase a stargazer card. When you see seven shows, you get the eighth free. Programs are approximately 30 minutes. Make sure everyone in your party has gone to the bathroom before entering. There is no readmission into the planeterium if you leave the theater. If you have young children under 10, the family programs are geared toward you. Other public programs are targeted toward adults and kids 10 and up.
If you’d like to see the real night sky, Fernbank also has observatory shows that are open to the public. Each Thursday and Friday, weather permitting, guests can view the night sky through the museums telescope. If Fernbank’s Observatory isn’t close to you, here are five observatories in Atlanta that are open to the public.
Among the permanent exhibits in the exhibit hall at the Fernbank Science Center are portrayals of the natural environment and vanishing habitats of Georgia, featuring mounted taxidermy specimens, and a few live animals. Astronomy displays include Fernbank’s meteorite collection and an authentic Apollo spacecraft. Each year the center offers a space camp put on by Lockheed Martin. In addition, there is a home composting demonstration site, rock and mineral walk and live chickens. Note there is NOT access to the Fernbank Forest anymore (you’ll see the old entrance in the video). You can access the Fernbank Forest from the Fernbank Museum of Natural History now.
This Fernbank Science Center definitely isn’t as flashy as the better known Fernbank Museum of Natural History, but there’s a lot to learn, the price is right, parking is free and it’s a relaxing afternoon adventure away from the crowds.
What: Fernbank Science Center, Atlanta Ga (NOT Fernbank Museum of Natural History)
Where: 156 Heaton Park Dr. NE
When: Hours vary
Cost: Admission to the Science Center is FREE
Planetarium Shows are extra