School of Physics and Astronomy
Astronomy group homepage
School of Physics & Astronomy
University of St Andrews
St Andrews KY16 9SS
Our "Starlab" planetarium is an inflatable dome of silvery plastic-coated fabric. Inside, a simulation of the night sky is projected onto the inside of the dome. As well as the stars, the Sun, the Moon - in its current phase, and up to five planets, can also be shown. The projector
can be tilted to display the sky as it would look from anywhere in the northern hemisphere, and is motor-driven to show the apparent motion of the stars, Sun, Moon etc. as the Earth rotates.
Each planetarium show takes the audience through what the sky will look like that day - from midday, with the Sun at its highest point in the sky, through the evening and the wee hours, until the sun rises the next morning. During this time we interactively discuss the Sun and Moon; the stars and why they move across the sky; the constellations, including well known constellations such as the Plough and Orion; stories that ancient civilisations have told about constellations and the stars; the lives of stars, including how stars are born and die; the Planets and why they "wander" across the sky; and many other topics - the possibilities are literally endless!
To see the planetarium in action, click here
Types of show
How many children can fit into one show?
We come to you |
The inflatable planetarium can come to your school! Please see the FAQs below to find out what the inflatable planetarium requires to visit your school.
To find out when we can visit your school, have a look at the availability page.
You come to us
Alternatively, if you would like a show for just one class, you can visit us at the School of Physics and Astronomy in St Andrews. We can also give an observatory tour as part of your visit. However, this only is an option outwith the University semesters, due to room availability.
To find out when you can visit the School of Physics and Astronomy, have a look at the availability page.
How long do the shows last?
For primary aged children we can fit up to 30 children inside the planetarium for each show. |
However we usually ask that there are only children from the same class in each show, so we can pitch the show at the correct level.
We ask that the children are accompanied by their teacher or carer in the planetarium during the show.
Wheelchairs can be accommodated in the planetarium - an average sized wheelchair takes the space of 2 seated children.
What does the inflatable planetarium require in order to visit my school?
Approximately 45 minutes - 30 minutes for the show in the planetarium, 10 minutes question time outside the planetarium, and 5 minutes to get in and out.
How far can the planetarium travel to our school?
Most importantly, space! (indoors that is!) |
We need a big room, such as a gym hall, to fit the planetarium. The room needs to be at least 6 x 8 metres (20 x 27 feet) or bigger, and 3 metres (10 feet) high in the centre. Look out for hanging lights or beams in the room when you measure this. The room also requires at least one 13-amp power-point.
Secondly, the room needs to be quiet, as the planetarium dome is not soundproof. Therefore rooms that are also used as thouroughfares are not advisable.
Thirdly, we need time to set up and put away the show: 1 hour to set it up, and 30 minutes to put it away. See below for a example timetable for a school visit with five shows (i.e. we come to your school).
How much does a planetarium visit/show cost?
Anything within around half an hours' drive of St Andrews. To check this you can use google maps. If you are not sure about this, please don't hesitate to contact us to ask.
How many shows can you do in one visit to a school?
The shows themselves are free, however we ask that you cover costs for transport of equipment (i.e. taxi hire to and from the school).
Can the planetarium stay in the hall across lunch time?
The maximum number of shows we can do in one school day is five. Here is an example timetable of how these would fit into the school day:
8.15am we arrive and set up
9.15 - 10.00: show 1
10.00 - 10.45: show 2
11.00 - 11.45: show 3
1.15 - 2.00: show 4
2.00 - 2.45: show 5
we would be clear from the hall by 3.30pm
How do you get in to the Dome?
If your hall is required for school lunches, is it possible to have packed lunches elsewhere on the day or for some tables to be set up in another area of the room?|
The Dome takes 45 minutes to take down and set up - therefore taking it out of the hall during a full day visit is usually unfeasible.
If we are in the hall across lunch time, it is always worth while letting the dinner staff know in advance!
The normal entrance to the planetarium is crawling through a large tunnel, so high heels need to be taken off before entering the planetarium.|
Although most people crawl into the dome through the tunnel, the sides can be lifted right up to accommodate wheelchairs or those who can't crawl.
Note that many useful resources for teachers are available in the
guide Astronomy and Space in UK schools and colleges
, produced under the sponsorship of the
Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (now the Science and Technology Funding Coucil). Click here
For a general page on educational resources for science click here
The history of St Andrews Mobile Planetarium
The St Andrews Mobile Planetarium was first obtained as part of the "St Andrews University Astronomy Road-Show" in 1996 with funding from the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council. It was part of a joint initiative at the Universities of Glasgow, Edinburgh and St.Andrews, organised by the Astronomer Royal for Scotland, Professor John Brown.
From 1996, the main use of the mobile planetarium has been school visits. Between the summer of 1996 and 1999 only, well over 200 shows have been given to classes ranging from nursery to S2, in schools all over Fife. The planetarium is also used on Open Days at the School of Physics & Astronomy. More than 10,000 people have passed through its tunnel "airlock".
People who have made the running of St Andrews Mobile Planetarium over the years possible include:
- Fiona Vincent and Roger Stapleton, who have put hours and hours of time and enthusiasm into bringing astronomy to schools in Fife!
- Alison Campbell
- Phil Hill
- Keith Horne
- David James
- Nick Dunstone
- Simon Driver
- Katharine Johnston
- Rowan Smith
- Thomas Robitaille
- Leslie Hebb
- David Hill
The Road-Show and Mobile Planetarium has at various times been funded by: