Have a Future Astronaut in the Family? Bring 'Em to SC

By:Kerry Egan

Date:7/26/2016

The overwhelming beauty of the Milky Way in the sky on a clear night on the beach on Hilton Head Island is enough to make anyone a stargazer. But if you have a child who stares at the night sky every night, who dreams of becoming an astronaut, or maybe even meeting someone from another world, then indulge that passion on your next visit to South Carolina. With planetariums, observatories, and even a welcome center for aliens, South Carolina is the perfect place for a space-obsessed child.

Here are just a few of the places to inspire your budding astrophysicist.

The South Carolina State Museum in Columbia is a paradise for a child who loves all things outer space. The Museum is home to the BlueCross/BlueShield South Carolina Planetarium, a 145-seat, domed theater that allows museum staff to bring the universe indoors.The 2,500-square-foot Boeing Observatory lets visitors view the night sky on evenings when the museum is open late, and, through the use of a special lens, lets you peer directly into the sun during the day.

Now, getting the chance to look directly at the sun, and through a telescope no less, is a pretty big thrill for any child who has been told they’ll burn their eyes out if they attempt any such thing. But here’s something even more exciting: Columbia will be one of the few places in the nation where people will be able to witness a total eclipse of the sun on Aug. 21, 2017. In celebration of this rare and exciting event, the State Museum will hold a special weekend of activities to celebrate.

Melton Observatory at University of South Carolina, also in Columbia, seems like the opposite of the State Museum. It’s a tiny observatory, and only open to the public one night a week. It is, however, a tiny jewel, a hidden gem. The building itself looks like an enchanted tower from a fairy tale. Wind your way up the stairs to find not only an enormous antique telescope, but several modern telescopes set up outside, and helpful volunteers to help you navigate the night sky.

DuPont Planetarium at University of South Carolina Aiken offers educational movies and programs about the universe in its 45-seat domed theater on Saturdays. Afterwards, visitors are welcome to stay to look out at the sky they just learned all about in the planetarium's observatory.

Roper Mountain Science Center invites everyone to their Friday Starry Nights programs, where kids and grown ups of all ages can see amazing planetarium shows and then enjoy looking at the night sky in their observatory.

Ronald E. McNair Life History Center in Lake City is a museum exploring and celebrating the life of Dr. Ronald McNair, a physicist and astronaut from this small Pee Dee town who overcame segregation and discrimination to become both an incredible inspiration and a national hero. McNair died in the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion in 1986, and his grave sits outside the museum.

UFO Welcome Center of Bowman is ready and waiting for all visitors, especially the extraterrestrial type. Not a museum, planetarium, or observatory, it’s a labor of love and a piece of South Carolina roadside charm not to be missed by those who love outer space and the kookiness of the human heart.

And finally, for those in love with the stars, don’t forget the beach. Really. Every year, from May through October, South Carolina’s beaches go dark to protect nesting loggerhead turtles. The side effects of this darkness are bright, bright stars. So on your next beach vacation, let your little one stay up late, grab a sweatshirt and a towel, and go lie on the beach in still darkness and watch the night sky come alive.

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