From science museums and planetariums to the best places for stargazing, we round up UK days out for space explorers
During World Space Week or year-round, the UK offers a range of fun ways to explore the universe for space fans, budding astronauts or astronomers.
From 360 domes where you feel like you’re flying through the stars, to hands-on exhibits, there’s something for all the family in these space-themed days out.
1. World Space Week
4 to 10 October
World Space Week takes place every year, bringing together people who love gazing at the stars and exploring the wonders of the universe. The theme for 2018 is ‘Space Unites the World’.
Find out more about the best places to stargaze across the UK, from observatories to dark sky reserves:
2. Space Day, Worcester
Saturday 6 October
Space Day is a free day of space exploration, 3D virtual reality experiences in the planetarium, rockets, exhibitions and walking on Mars, organised by the West Midlands Branch of the British Interplanetary Society especially for World Space Week. Have a go at docking the Soyuz space capsule at the International Space Station in a simulator (like the one British Astronaut Tim Peake travelled in). Ever wanted to walk on the moon, or see what it’s like on Mars? Using virtual reality headsets you can do just that – walk in the footsteps of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, fly through the solar system and stand on a moon of Jupiter or Saturn.
3. Winchester Science Centre
The Planet Show is an ongoing guided tour of the solar system aimed at inspiring children about space. Fly around the universe and visit all the planets in one exciting planetarium show. Autism-friendly and quiet showings are also available. You can also explore 20 modular exhibits in the centre’s immersive zone, Explorer:Space, including everything from space discoveries to the first mission to land on the moon.
© Harvey Mills 2018
4. National Space Centre, Leicester
Boasting the UK’s largest planetarium, a 3D spaceflight simulator, six hands-on galleries, and a 42m high Rocket Tower, the award-winning National Space Centre is a space fan’s dream. Wannabe space pilots can try out being a trainee astronaut, hop into the Spaceflight Induction Module and see a real chunk of moon rock. When you need a rest, kids and grown-ups will all like the appropriately space-themed café, where you can learn more about humans’ journeys into outer space while you enjoy your lunch.
5. We The Curious, Bristol
Every day in 2018
We The Curious boasts a shiny silver orb of a planetarium, in central Bristol’s Millenium Square, which offers a host of ways to explore space. The over-6s can step inside the UK’s only 3D planetarium for the immersive Solar System Odyssey, an interactive voyage led by a presenter, with 28 epic missions to choose from. The under-6s can become Space Explorers and enjoy the Rocketship Adventure – a 2D voyage into space led by Stella the bear, who is on a mission to find Ursa, the bear who was too big to live in the forest and found a home in the stars and appears as a constellation. Throughout the year, Planetarium Nights offer weekly guided tours of the night sky for grown-ups (16+).
© Lee Pullen
6. Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre, Macclesfield
Jodrell Bank is a working science centre that features the Lovell Telescope, the third-largest steerable telescope in the world – you can see it move as the scientists use it to observe different parts of the universe. There’s also an ‘orerry’, a clockwork replica of the universe that allows you to manually turn the planets and see them move at their relative speeds and positions. For little inquisitive minds there are scientists on hand to explain how the universe works, and there are special events for children, but there’s also lots to attract grown-up space fans too, such as the research into quasars and radio astronomy. On nice days, you can stroll through the ‘galaxy garden’, which uses the power of plants to show the formation of the universe.
7. The Science Museum, London
Documenting human development with a world-class collection of scientific, technological and medical advancements from across the globe, the Science Museum is a great day out, offering some out-of-this-world experiences for lovers of all things space. Entry to the museum is free but there are charges for some exhibitions.
6 October 2018 – 6 May 2019
Even though life on Earth depends on it, we still don’t know all that much about its nearest star, the Sun. This exhibition explores our relationship with it, from religious artefacts from the Nordic Bronze Age (1400 BC), to upcoming NASA and ESA solar missions. As well as learning about this essential part of our universe, you can bask in the sunlight of an indoor beach, try on a range of historic sunglasses, and see the sun rise in different seasons and places around the world in a huge illuminated display.
Walk with astronauts in IMAX 3D as they embark on a spacewalk to perform one of the most difficult and important tasks in NASA’s history. The Hubble Space Telescope was launched in 1990 and is still travelling through space, sending back incredible images of its surroundings that are helping to shape scientist’s views of our universe. Narrated by actor Leonardo DiCaprio, Hubble 3D explores Hubble’s mysterious and celestial surroundings.
For the slightly older astronauts of the future (aged 13+) the Science Museum offers the opportunity to experience what it was like for UK astronaut Tim Peake to descent to Earth in a Soyuz capsule. Narrated by Tim himself, you’ll get a 360-degree view of the dangerous, high-speed 400km journey home from the International Space Station.
Every science fan’s dream: to spend a night in a museum after-hours. This sleepover for children includes workshops, science shows and inspiring activities, followed by breakfast and a memorable IMAX 3D film. See the website for dates and themes.
© Science Museum Group
8. Thinktank Planetarium, Birmingham Science Museum
The Planetarium at Birminham Science Museum offers a range of shows perfect for big and little people interested in astronomy and space. Tour around the night sky, go on an adventure around the solar system, and journey to the edge of the universe. Check out the website for forthcoming events.
© Birmingham Museums Trust
9. See Tim Peake’s space capsule
You can see the actual spacecraft that brought Tim Peake back down to Earth. The Soyuz capsule is coming to the end of its UK tour, along with his space suit and the Space Descent VR so you can experience it for yourself. You can see the capsule at Peterborough Cathedral until 5 November 2018, then at National Museum Wales in Cardiff until January, and finally at National Museums Northern Ireland: Ulster, until May 2019.
© Science Museum Group
10. Explore the universe from Dark Sky Discovery Sites
Whether there’s a meteor shower coming up, a lunar eclipse happening, or you just want to look for constellations and see what you can see, the UK’s Dark Sky Discovery Sites are always there. On a clear night, find your nearest site – there are some in parks of towns and cities, so you don’t have to venture out into the wilderness. Take some hot chocolate, pack some blankets and download a free app such as Night Sky, to help you navigate the stars if you’re not sure what you’re looking at. Some sites even organise special events when there’s a big date in the celestial calendar.
11. Glasgow Science Centre
The planetarium and Space Zone at Glasgow Science Centre is a must for lovers of all things space. The state-of-the-art dome projects live shows, led by astronomers and other experts, where you can voyage far into the Milky Way and beyond, as well as films including one about the moon narrated by Tim Allen (Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story). As you approach the planetarium, the Space Zone creates an immersive journey through the solar system to learn facts about the planets in our cosmos. Find out what it’s like to work in space and get a picture of the family in outer space.
12. Techniquest, Cardiff
Techniquest is the UK’s longest-established science centre, inspiring young minds about science subjects. From its planetarium in Cardiff Bay you can venture out into space to see if there is life on other planets, learn about the Greek mythologies behind the stories of our constellations, and more.