Before you can become a town local, you must have some little-known place you like to go, like a restaurant or quiet beach only you and your friends know. My first Norfolk place was the Pretlow Planetarium and its summer series, which has begun anew for the 2017 season.
Three years ago I saw a flyer promising I could see Jupiter and Saturn up-close in the night sky, and I visited without knowing what to expect. But I was captivated to see distant planets in fine detail, and it became a private reward at the end of long summer days.
Yesterday I returned to the Pretlow Planetarium for the first time this summer, and I remembered how lucky I first felt to know about their quiet shows. The telescopes are a big draw, of course, and the professors and students who aim the scopes are always happy to tell you about Jupiter’s red storm or the craters on the moon as those sights fill your vision. But even on rainy days they have something for you; the Planetarium itself houses a domed ceiling with a specialized projector that takes you on a guided tour of the solar system. Audiences recline in leather seats and watch the stars and planets zip overhead, all while kids ooh and ahh and answer the professor’s questions.
And it’s not all wonder and awe at the universe. Last night’s show was one of their new laser light performances, “Prismatica.” This one would be a great show for kids, who will love to see penguins dancing on the ceiling to songs like “Happy” and “Firework,” but for the older crowd there’s “Laser Pink Floyd” on July 23. The Planetarium has a quality sound system, so I’m sure it’ll be a treat for all fans.
And if laser light shows, guided tours of the galaxy, and quality stargazing isn’t enough, the Planetarium has its “Bad Movie Nights,” where they project some of Hollywood’s weirdest science fiction onto the dome. They also do pub-style trivia before the movie, so you can make an evening of it. Friday June 2nd will feature “The Bat,” where Vincent Price tries in vain to save the residents of a creepy mansion from a cloaked killer. When I spoke to Professor Justin Mason, I asked him how he chose the B-movies.
“These ones are free,” he said. “The movies are so bad they’re in the public domain. Nobody wants to claim them, so we show them for free.”
And that is a wonderful thing: here in Norfolk, in the middle of Old Dominion University’s campus, there’s a gorgeous planetarium with laser light shows and telescopes and bad movies, and it’s all free or cheap and readily available. You just have to know it’s there.
For more info and showtimes, click here.