Looking for a cool date night? Stargazing at the Strasenburgh

The Strasenburgh Planetarium under construction. Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Feb. 9, 1968
from 47 years ago when the Eagle landed. What July 20th, 1969 has meant over the decades with Strasenburgh Planetarium’s Steve Fentress

There is always a new delight to be discovered at the Rochester Museum & Science Center. (see full series at end)

In 47 years ago when the Eagle landed. What July 20th, 1969 has meant over the decades , Strasenburgh Planetarium Director Steve Fentress and I re-lived the first moon landing. Our conversation also touched on the Saturday night telescope viewings at the Planetarium offered by a local astronomy club: the Astronomy Section of the Rochester Academy of Science (ASRAS). I had heard of the viewings but never been. Steve said I would enjoy a Saturday night under the stars.

Turns out George Payne (who you’ve met on numerous occasions) and his wife Amy have gone on a celestial date night stargazing at the Strasenburgh. George’s report has inspired me  — as it may you —  to gaze for myself. As a matter of fact, this Saturday the 17th you can catch the Ionia Fall Festival.

The Finger Lakes Community College philosophy teacher that he is, George adds some philosophical musings to his date report.

And in doing so, George adds the sixth to our RMSC Series (see at end)

Stargazing at the Strasenburgh

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


The Strasenburgh Planetarium is a gateway to the deeper realities of our multiverse. It is a beautiful example of a img_20160319_195355636_hdrmuseum completely alive with the fresh zeal of creative experimentation. A place where children and adults are charmed with the same delightful amazement. A place we go to realize that we are not all that matters.

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. If we can view the universe with respect and awe, it need not terrify us. For we are part of a cloud of universes unseen by any telescope. If we do not have planetariums to help us come to terms with this reality, we will succumb to delusion.

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 note, 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

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 so what. 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, holy smokes that’s incredible panorama of space felt great. I can’t wait to go back with my newborn son.

Photo by George Payne

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
Amy Bianchi Payne spying on the Milky Way

The volunteer astronomers say that even though city lights surround the planetarium, the moon, planets, and bright star clusters are still visible.

A real telescope is important so you can see these sites for yourself. If you had the chance, which would you rather do — see the Grand Canyon in person or look at pictures on a computer monitor?

Jim Seidewand, ASRAS director of telescope activities at the Planetarium

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!


“Good therapy” at the RMSC’s Garden of Fragrance with the Rochester Herb Society

Too much fun After Dark at the RMSC

47 years ago when the Eagle landed. What July 20th, 1969 has meant over the decades with Strasenburgh Planetarium’s Steve Fentress

Living the Native American way of being at Haudenosaunee Days at the RMSC

How do the Whispering Dishes at the RMSC work?