You might already know that the South Carolina State Museum is one of the best natural history museums in the country to see everything, from local folk art to a giant megalodon shark suspended in the air over your head (don’t worry—it’s just a model!). But did you also know that the museum is the very first in the country to house a planetarium, observatory, and 4D theater all under one roof?
While the permanent, changing and travelling exhibits are not to be missed, make sure you also schedule time to take in the great shows playing in the BlueCross BlueShield South Carolina Planetarium and the Rev. Dr. Solomon Jackson Jr. 4D Interactive Theater. Also plan to visit the Boeing Observatory, no matter what time of day you visit.
Did your mother always tell you never to look directly at the sun? Well, here’s your chance to not just stare at the sun, but to look at it through a telescope! The observatory has a solar telescope that allows viewers to look directly into the sun, where you'll get to see the swirling, whirling, strangely mesmerizing surface of the star. If you’re lucky, you might even see a sun spot or solar flare. And if it’s a rainy day? You’re still in luck. The observatory records what is seen through the telescope and shows images from sunny days on the large computer screens at the base of the telescope when the sun is hidden behind clouds.
On Tuesday nights, when the museum is open until 8 p.m., visitors can climb the ladder to peer through the huge 1926 Alvan Clark refracting telescope. Depending on what’s in the night sky, you might catch a glimpse of the moon, Saturn’s rings or something in-between.
The planetarium also focuses on the universe beyond our planet, but in a completely different way than the observatory. The observatory lets you peer out into the sky, while the planetarium is a 145-seat theater that recreates the sky on a dome stretching above your head.
The planetarium offers a variety of shows, from astronomy to history, and even laser shows set to popular music. While the topics can be complex, the planetarium staff works hard to pick shows that will be appealing and accessible to people of all different ages. Tickets for the shows can be purchased at the museum or online.
The museum’s other theater is of an entirely different sort. The 4D theater might look like a small version of your local movie theater, but don’t be fooled. You will be pulled into the show in a way no regular movie can accomplish.
Bubbles float around, scents fill the air, seats rumble and shake, and water might even squirt in your face as a 3D movie plays on the screen. Get ready for some serious fun.
Insider tip: Museum staff advises that you not buy tickets for back-to-back shows in the planetarium and 4D theater. You’ll need a few minutes to walk between the two places, and you don’t want to miss the beginning of each show. Spread the show times out, and take in an exhibit between shows, to make sure you have plenty of time to get where you need to be and find great seats.