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[Offbeat]: The Beijing Planetarium
Pre-Cambrian nightmares and obligatory Uranus jokes at Beijing's 4D guide to the cosmos...
By Jun 19, 2015 Activities
"Offbeat" is a SmartBeijing column about stuff to look at or do or experience in Beijing that's interesting or weird (relatively, of course), that doesn't fit anywhere else. It appears weekly, monthly, or maybe even annually, when we're not busy working on other superfluous column ideas.

“Moon’s on your right, planets over there, gift shop’s that way. No photography in the center of the sun.”

I’m just gonna say it: I don’t like space. It’s sanctimonious and overachieving. It delights in reminding us of our own weakness and refuses to define itself. It is the Gwyneth Paltrow of limitless three-dimensional extents.

I theoretically understand that the wonder of infinity fills the well-adjusted with a sense of serenity and awe, and I envy those people's ability to accept their own insignificance in isolation, while still attaching a healthy importance to things like Batman and gin tonics.

So, yeah, I don’t know that I’m the best person to recommend the Beijing Planetarium as a casual field trip. I don’t think we should be telling children that at any moment, a random asteroid strike could cause the oceans to boil, reducing us to our component carbon. Are we really comforted by things we better understand? Or is the caprice of the cosmos so immovably brutal that it’s better left ignored?

I thought the Planetarium would be mostly like, telescopes, but turns out it’s more of a space-facts museum crafted around a series of theaters, with the movies being the main attraction and everything else existing to distract between show times. The exhibits are categorized by solar system component, and the grounds are split into two buildings, A & B, with the newer exhibits and theaters in building B, the older ones in Building A. In a pinch, you could give Building A an unrepentant skip.

There are four active theaters scattered across the grounds, and all are not equal, with the two most interesting in building B – the Space Dome Theater (宇宙剧场) and the 4D Theater (4D剧场). I snagged tix to both, and had about an hour to kill before doors opened for seating.

“Moon’s on your right, planets over there, gift shop’s that way. No photography in the center of the sun.”

Photography from the Center of the Sun

Curators decided to skip the English-language descriptions on just this part of the museum, but I guess the Earth’s most famous ball of molten plasma needs no introduction. What did kind of need an introduction, though, was the floating silver astro-station capsule hovering in the middle of the blacklit sky.

The Moon & Asteroids

This area is less an educational diorama about the moon and more of a giddy celebration of extinction events. I mean, there’s an astronaut selfie set-up and a little replica of an unmanned rover, but the central feature here is a huge paper mache asteroid flanked by a video simulation of meteor strikes and dying dinosaurs. There’s even a little game where you can turn your fist into the hammer of God; punching a gelatinous replica of the earth’s surface causes volcanos to erupt on a topographical map. All the kids were gleefully socking the shit out of the planet while like, one thoughtful middle-aged guy stood transfixed in front of the asteroid countdown clock and fields of screaming stegosauri.

The Planets & Everything Else

Hey, kid, you’ll forgive me for saying so, you might consider seeing a doctor. BECAUSE THERE’S A BASKETBALL IN URANUS! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

And then, finally, show time.

“Interstellar” at the 3D Space Theater

Oh, no. Sorry. Not that Interstellar. Not the one where Matthew Mcconaughey gets the sniffles in a wormhole. This is the one where dying stars are projected on the ceiling dome while a Chinese narrator reminds us that one day, our sun will burn off all its hydrogen and start in on its helium, and then it will expand until it consumes the earth.

If that makes it sound like this thing wasn’t worth the outlay, it was. This was absolutely the highlight of the trip.

“A Walk Through the Cambrian” at the 4D Theater

“A Walk through the Cambrian” is a 15-minute horror movie about the Cambrian explosion, I guess directed by whoever created the first Windows '95 deep sea screensaver. The bad guy is a giant angry crustacean, and the good guy is a swimming seal-slug that’s trying to grow feet. Every time the crustacean spears something with its proboscis, the seat in front of you sprays water in your face. So I guess water is the fourth dimension. The seats also punch you in the back and blow air around your ankles, depending on whatever a huge pixelated jellyfish is doing on screen.

I’m gonna take a wild guess and say they didn’t do a beta test run on this thing before launch. The first time a jet of liquid misted the audience, every child in the room – so, basically everyone - started bawling. Ten minutes into the film, the theater is full of thirty angry kids who are all attacking the asshole chairs, because that’s the only rational response when you give someone eight dollars and then they won’t stop spitting on you.


The Beijing Planetarium is immediately outside Exit D2 of Beijing Zoo stop on Line 4. It’s closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Find the hours and address here.

Tickets for the 4D theater are 30 RMB per adult, 3D theater's around 30-35 RMB, and a museum-only ticket runs 10 RMB. If you buy a theater ticket, museum entrance is included, and you don’t need to snag a second pass for the exhibitions.

You kinda need to get there around 10:30. Most of the movies have showings between 10:00 and 12:45, with the last showings of select films starting around 2:30. The planetarium closes at 3:00pm. Each film only runs about once every 2 hours, so don’t expect that you can just pitch up last minute and see what you came to see.

Newp, no English subtitles or audio for any of the movies. Didn’t really detract from the experience for me, though, so… I dunno. Your call. It’s all eye-candy anyway.

For some bullshit reason, there aren’t any glowing constellation stickers in the gift shop.



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