Stargazing at the Strasenburgh

 Astronomy compels the soul to look upwards and leads us from this world to another.



Volunteer in action! Photo by George Payne


Rochester is lucky. Without a planetarium a community is blinded to the greater whole of who we are as a species. If we are not looking upward and outward, we are not looking at all.

Sure. The size of the universe is paralyzingly large. But a planetarium helps us get over our fear of the largeness. The universe need not terrify us if we can view it with respect and awe.



On the upper deck. Photo by George Payne

A Little Background

In 1935, soon after the opening of major planetariums in Chicago, Philadelphia, New York and Los Angeles, Arthur C. Parker, Director of the Rochester Museum of Arts and Sciences, recommended construction of a planetarium in Rochester.

In the fall of 1964 RMSC announced that it had received a gift of “more than one million dollars” from Mr. and Mrs. Edwin G. Strasenburgh of Rochester for the purpose of building a planetarium. The building design, by Carl F. W. Kaelber Jr. of the Rochester architectural firm of Waasdorp, Northup & Kaelber, was announced on June 28, 1966.

Dedicated on September 14, 1968, the Strasenburgh Planetarium  was named after its benefactors, Edwin and Clara Strasenburgh.

Of special distinction, the planetarium’s Star Theater houses the first Zeiss Mark VI planetarium projector; it is still in daily operation. In fact, the planetarium received world-wide attention by being the first to be computer automated.


The Planetarium building was said to resemble a snail shell or a spiral nebula.



So far as hypotheses are concerned, let no one expect anything certain from astronomy, which cannot furnish it, lest he accept as the truth ideas conceived for another purpose, and depart from this study a greater fool than when he entered it.

Nicolaus Copernicus


Photo by George Payne


The history of astronomy is a history of receding horizons.

Edwin Powell Hubble


Staircase up to the telescopes. Photo by George Payne


Saturday Night Telescope Viewing

Looking for a cool date night? There is a free telescope viewing on Saturday nights from dark till about 10 p.m. when weather in downtown Rochester is favorable and volunteer telescope operators are available. This is all thanks to volunteers from the leading local astronomy club: the Astronomy Section of the Rochester Academy of Science (ASRAS).

Just climb 60 steps at the back of the planetarium and you can stargaze right in the heart of downtown Rochester. My wife Amy and I did it. The weather was chilly but it was an awesome experience. We got to see the moons of Jupiter as clear as our own moon! And to see children and people of all backgrounds getting excited about the bewildering, astonishing, mind boggling, jaw dropping panorama of the night sky felt incredible. I can’t wait to go back with my newborn son.



Photo by George Payne


While we were on the roof waiting our turn, we were told that a new 11-inch computer-guided Celestron CPC1100 telescope on a Pier-Tech adjustable pier was added in 2014 with gifts from the Max and Marian Farash Charitable Foundation and the Louis S. and Molly B. Wolk Foundation.


Photo by George Payne

So fantasy was fine early on, and when I discovered science fiction, I was very happy with it, because my first interest in science fiction came with an interest in astronomy.

Octavia Butler



Amy Bianchi Payne spying on the Milky Way


“A real telescope is important so you can see these sites for yourself,” says Jim Seidewand, ASRAS director of telescope activities at the Planetarium. “If you had the chance, which would you rather do — see the Grand Canyon in person or look at pictures on a computer monitor?”


Photo by George Payne


If you are interested, ASRAS welcomes new members of all ages and experience levels. According to the RMSC website, monthly meetings take place at RIT or at the club’s dark-sky observing site, the Farash Center for Observational Astronomy in Ionia, New York. Check them out!


Another East Ave beauty.

Public presentations at the Planetarium include star shows, giant-screen films, and laser light shows.

  • Star shows feature the mighty star projector along with an advanced wide-screen, high-resolution video system.
  • Giant-screen films projected on our four-story dome take you on journeys of exploration all over the world.
  • Saturday Night Laser Shows set classic rock music to choreographed beams of dazzling laser light, crisscrossing the Planetarium’s indoor sky.
  • The Challenger Learning Center, a service of Monroe #1 BOCES, offers high-tech, hands-on space mission simulations to school groups and the public.


Photo by George Payne


Inside, there are activities for kids, artwork on the walls, laser shows, and many exhibits which expand one’s cosmic perspective.



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