The Vanderbilt Reichert Planetarium: 50 years of exploring the stars

The Vanderbilt Reichert Planetarium: 50 years of exploring the stars

Vanderbilt visitors enjoy a trip into space. Photo by Jennifer Vacca

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum in Centerport found a way in the late 1960s to honor William K. Vanderbilt II’s (1878-1944) love of science and exploration – and to create a new revenue source – when it decided to build a planetarium. Last month, the Vanderbilt Reichert Planetarium observed its 50th birthday.

Opened on June 29, 1971, the Planetarium began generating income to support Museum operations. The Planetarium was a testimony to Mr. Vanderbilt’s passionate interest in science and astronomy and his use of celestial navigation in the early 20th century while circumnavigating the globe in his yachts. Most importantly, the Planetarium was and is essential to the Museum’s mission to provide high-quality astronomy and science education.

The Planetarium, which was popular with visitors immediately, became an invaluable teaching tool. By the second decade of this century, however, the facility and its technology were worn and years out of date. In 2012, the Vanderbilt, with substantial help from Suffolk County, undertook a $4-million renovation and complete technological update of the facility, which reopened on March 15, 2013.

The renovation design allows the star projector to retract out of audience sightlines. This feature, along with removable rows of seating, provides flexibility for the William and Mollie Rogers Theater to be used also as a venue for lectures, performing arts, and large-group meetings. Flexible theatre space allows the Museum to expand its audiences, visibility, and regional appeal.

In February 2020, the Vanderbilt received approval from Suffolk County to use Museum endowment funds for significant technological upgrades. The Vanderbilt purchased two advanced systems – laser phosphorus full-dome video projectors that generate sharper imagery and laser-beam projectors to enhance laser-light entertainment shows. Dave Bush, director of the Planetarium, said this state-of-the-art equipment adds dimension and excitement and greatly improves the visual experience.

The Planetarium is an education center with astronomy programs for visiting school groups that align with New York State educational standards. The facility also offers science entertainment programs and laser-light shows. The Observatory recently added a solar telescope for safe viewing of the Sun.

The Planetarium, which has a 60-foot-diameter dome, is one of the largest and most advanced in the United States. More than 85,000 visitors see shows there each year.

In honor of its largest benefactors, the Vanderbilt renamed the facility the Charles and Helen Reichert Planetarium in 2019. Their unprecedented gift is helping to ensure the Planetarium’s future.

Visit for upcoming shows and programs.