Planetariums and observatories welcome millions of people each year, showcasing everything from asteroids and stars to planets and distant universes. Yet these awe-inspiring buildings aren’t always at the top of architectural roundups, whether because they go unnoticed or because they aren’t always designed by renowned architects like the others museums.

Planetariums and observatories are worth a look, however, if only because they perform important research and often serve as educational centers for budding astronomers. Their architecture might surprise you; While there are plenty of sparkling domes on this list, we also featured historic structures and new versions of the traditional observatory.

Here are eleven interesting planetariums and architectural observatories in the United States that are sure to make you look skyward.

Gemma Observatory in New Hampshire

The Gemma Observatory in southern New Hampshire.
Courtesy of the American Architecture Awards

Conceived by Anmahian Winton Architects, this private New Hampshire observatory rejects the traditional dome in favor of an unconventional geometric shape that aims to mimic the rocky outcrops that surround the structure.

Inside, the building is clad in fir plywood to create a warm and inviting refuge from which to appreciate the stars. A faceted turret holds the main observation deck of the observatory, and the building also has an exterior observation deck at the rear.

Adler Planetarium in Chicago

The exterior of the Adler Planetarium building in Chicago.  The top is dome shaped and there are pyramid shaped structures on both sides of the building.

The Adler Planetarium opened in 1930 as the first planetarium in the Western Hemisphere.
Courtesy of the Adler Planetarium

Opened in 1930 as the Western Hemisphere’s first planetarium, the Adler Planetarium was built as a “classroom under the heavens” for popular astronomy education. The Art Deco structure has a stony, pink and gray exterior, few windows, and is designed as a 12-sided shape topped with a dome.

Today, the structure – which some compare to a spaceship – houses three different theaters, special exhibits, and an observatory. It is also located on the shores of Lake Michigan, offers stunning views of the Chicago skyline and has been one of the best places in town to see the 2017 eclipse.

Yerkes Observatory in Wisconsin

The exterior of the Yerkes Observatory in Wisconsin.  There is a main building with an arched entrance attached to an observatory with a domed roof.

The Yerkes Observatory on the University of Chicago campus in Williams Bay, Wisconsin.
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Affiliated with the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Chicago, the Yerkes Observatory was established in 1897 on Lake Geneva in Williams Bay, Wisconsin.

The observatory houses a 40-inch single-lens refractor telescope and sits on a 77-acre park designed in part by John Olmsted, brother of renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. The historic building is notable for its many arches and the way the design incorporated both a domed observatory and space for education and events.

Hayden Planetarium At New York

The exterior of the Hayden Planetarium in New York.  The building has glass walls.  There is a large blue globe and other planetary objects on display in the building.  The building has a green brick arched base.

The Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space in New York.
Alan Schein Photography / Getty Images

Operating out of the Department of Astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History, the new Hayden Planetarium is housed in the beautiful Rose Center for Earth and Space building. The previous planetarium was closed and demolished in 1997, and in its place is a 2,000-ton sphere that contains the planetarium.

The 87-foot-diameter sphere is housed in a 95-foot-high suspended glass cube, creating what some have called a “cosmic cathedral.” Two different theaters take visitors on virtual journeys, and the planetarium is also available for hire as an event space.

Burke Baker Planetarium at the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences

The exterior of the Burke Baker Planetarium at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.  The roof is painted green and dome shaped.  There are trees and grass in front.

Burke Baker Planetarium at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, Houston, Texas.
UIG via Getty Images

Located inside the Houston Museum of Natural Science, the Burke Baker Planetarium boasts Digistar 6, one of the most advanced simulators in the world. The dome-shaped exterior not only looks good, it also allows visitors to get lost in high-resolution solar-powered videos.

Opened in 1964, millions of guests have flown over the universe, sailed through asteroid fields and explored planetary surfaces. The Dome Theater is also used to train NASA Space Shuttle astronauts in the identification of star fields.

Mauna Kea Observatory in hawaii

The exterior of the Mauna Kea Observatory in Hawaii.  The main building has a domed roof and a white facade.  In the distance, on the edge of a cliff, is another dome-shaped structure.

Telescopes atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii.
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Sitting 13,796 feet in Hawaii, the white and silver Mauna Kea Observatory looks like what you’d expect from the the largest observatory in the world for optical, infrared and submillimeter astronomy.

The complex contains 13 high-tech telescopes near the top of the sleeping volcano, and more major telescopes are now located on Mauna Kea than on any other mountain peak.

Griffith Park Observatory in Los Angeles

The exterior of the Griffith Park Observatory in Los Angeles.  The facade of the building is white and there are several domed structures on the roof.  In the background, the skyline of the city of Los Angeles.

The LA skyline behind Griffith Park Observatory.
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A well-known Southern California tourist destination and the world’s most visited public observatory, the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles offers visitors free entry to its building and grounds.

The building includes the Samuel Oschin planetarium, an observatory and an exhibition space. It’s a mishmash of grandiose and monumental styles built using concrete, steel and copper domes. To manage this way to learn more about LA “Most recognizable and appreciated building. “

Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona

The exterior of the Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona.  There are two white domed structures.  Each structure is positioned at the edge of a cliff.  There is a sunset in the sky.

An observatory near Tucson, Arizona at sunset.
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Located 56 miles southwest of Tucson, Arizona, the Kitt Peak National Observatory was selected in 1958 as the site for a national observatory after a 3-year survey that included 150 mountain ranges across the United States. .

The observatory offers daily visits which show buildings and telescopes, while night tours allow people to see the night sky through a 16-inch telescope.

McDonald Observatory in Texas

The exterior of the McDonald Observatory in Texas.  The roof is dome shaped with white structural supports.

McDonald Observatory in Texas.
Shutterstock

Located in the mountains of West Texas, 450 miles west of its administrative and research headquarters at the University of Texas at Austin, the McDonald Observatory boasts some of the darkest skies in the continental United States. .

These skies let the sparkling dome of the observatory shine, and the observatory welcomes around 60,000 visitors each year for parties and exhibitions.

Mount Graham International Observatory in Arizona

The exterior of the Mount Graham International Observatory in Arizona.  The facade is gray and there is a large binocular telescope that can be seen inside the building.

A large binocular telescope located in southeastern Arizona.
Joe McNally / Getty Images

Originally erected in Milan, Italy, before being shipped to Arizona in 2002, the Large Binocular Telescope at the Mount Graham International Observatory can provide images ten times sharper than the Hubble Space Telescope.

It is the most powerful telescope in the world, and public tours are available by reservation in advance from May through October.

Morrison Planetarium in San Francisco

The exterior of the Morrison Planetarium in San Francisco.  The roof has several domes which have plants growing on their surface.  In front of the building are trees and plants.

The green roof of the Morrison Planetarium in San Francisco.
Shutterstock

Located inside the California Academy of Sciences, one of our Kids’ Favorite Destinations in San Francisco—The 75-foot domed Morrison Planetarium is the world’s largest fully digital planetarium.

Although the architecture of the California Academy of Sciences building is unlike other planetariums and observatories, it is still an important structure. Architect Renzo Piano constructed a 2.5 acre ‘living roof’ for this green building that uses sustainable materials and has two domes that cover the planetarium and the rainforest exhibit.


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