Take the Kids: Arlington’s David M. Brown Planetarium

Catch one of the celestial shows on its domed ceiling before the facility temporarily shuts down for a year.

Photo by Matt Blitz

Two months after Apollo 11 landed on the moon, Arlington’s own conduit to the stars opened to the public. It was September of 1969 when the Arlington Planetarium first projected the night sky onto its 30-foot domed ceiling. Five decades later, the facility is still being used to teach, amaze and inspire.

“All you need to do is step outside on a clear, dark night in the D.C. metro area to see why we still need a planetarium,” says Jonathan Harmon, longtime director of the local landmark on the Washington-Liberty High School campus. “Light pollution is stopping a whole generation of kids from seeing stars.”

In 2008, the planetarium was renamed after David M. Brown, a 1974 Yorktown High School graduate and astronaut who was among those killed when the Space Shuttle Columbia exploded upon reentry in 2003.

This fall, the celestial facility celebrates its 50th anniversary—a milestone that almost didn’t happen. When Arlington Public Schools in 2010 announced plans to close the building and repurpose it as classroom space, community members protested. A nonprofit group, Friends of Arlington’s Planetarium, was formed and raised more than $400,000 for building improvements, saving the facility from going dark.

In September, the David M. Brown Planetarium will once again offer three shows a day for students, plus weekend and select weekday programs for the general public. In January, it will temporarily shut down for more than a year while an adjacent construction project converts the Arlington Education Center into classroom space. Once it reopens, it will again give visitors the chance to experience the “innate sense of wonder,” in Harmon’s words, of a night sky full of stars and planets.


Categories: Community