Inflatable Planetarium Dome bringing immersive starwatching to schools

A view of the ceiling inside Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore’s new inflatable planetarium dome. A projection of the night sky is visible with outlines of constellations and labels of major celestial bodies. The vertical projector is visible in the foreground. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.

The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is excited to share that the park’s Interpretation and Education division now has an inflatable planetarium dome to enable immersive experiences related to the night sky, the Great Lakes ecosystem, and more! The dome was recently purchased as part of a grant from the National Park Foundation. A vertically mounted laser projector with a fisheye lens enables detailed 360-degree images and video to be projected on the inside, while a fan provides constant air pressure to keep the dome inflated.

Educators located within 50 miles of the National Lakeshore can now sign up for a team of rangers to visit their school with the dome as well as a variety of other activity stations for students. The stations will be staffed with rangers trained in leading and engaging hands-on activities as students rotate through the stations in small groups to ensure everyone gets a chance to participate. The only requirements to host these visits is a large room (such as a school gymnasium), which is big enough to fit a 17-foot-wide and 12-foot-tall dome along with some additional space to set up the other stations. An electrical outlet will also need to be accessible to plug in the electronics used with the dome. The number of stations can be modified based on the school’s available floor space.

Two different themes will initially be offered with these visits. The first is a night-sky themed visit titled “Sharing Star Stories.” The dome will provide a stunning interactive view of the night sky, and other stations will cover topics such as nocturnal animals, constellations, Anishinaabe night-sky oral traditions, and light pollution. The second option, “Great Lakes from Below,” will entail breathtaking underwater footage of the Great Lakes in the dome as well as stations on aquatic food webs, invasive species, and microplastics. Completing all the stations will typically take around an hour, however, this can be adjusted depending on educators’ needs. While both of these school visit programs have been designed for participants at the 3rd to 5th-grade level, educators can arrange for students from other grade levels to also check out the dome while it is set up at the school.

As a reminder, all the National Lakeshore’s educational programming options are offered completely FREE of charge. Reimbursement for busing costs is also available for some field trips. To sign up for a ranger-led visit or field trip at the park, educators should fill out a field trip request form found on the “Plan a Field Trip” webpage and email it to the Education team at Any questions about educational opportunities can also be sent to that same address.