Top 5 Planetariums

The night sky, projected onto giant domes above our heads. Them's be planetariums – the perfect immersive substitute for when nights are simply too cloudy for the real thing.

Royal Observatory, Greenwich

Royal Observatory, Greenwich

In issue one we compiled the perfect stargazing kit for an expedition up the hills. This is all fine if the skies are clear and you're a creature of the night, but if you find yourself flummoxed by cloudy skies, have no fear. Planetariums are here (and more buildings named after Sir Patrick Moore than you can shake a monocle at).

Royal Observatory, Greenwich

Surely the daddy of observatories in Britain? It's worth visiting for the architecture alone; the planetarium is housed inside a 45-ton bronze-clad truncated cone, tilted at 51.5˚ to the horizontal (the latitude of Greenwich), and stands parallel to (but 50 metres east of) the prime meridian. The cone is one of the single largest uses of bronze in the world; made from nearly 250 individual plates welded together and patinated to look like a single piece.

And inside it gets even more interesting. The planetarium combines real images from spacecraft and telescope with advanced CGI, projected onto the inside of the massive dome that will make you feel as though you're in a 360˚ cinema. As well as showing you the constellations of the night sky, it can fly you into the heart of the sun, transport you to distant galaxies, show you the birth of a star or land you on Mars.

The museum is also running the Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition and is open for entries until 24 April.

Think Tank, Birmingham

Another immersive cinema experience. Could 360˚ sound and video be the future of cinema, as well as planetariums? According to film makers David Lynch and Steven Spielberg, it might well be:

"A dome is such a great shape to project a movie on. I think one day people will have domes in their homes. They’re magical" - David Lynch, The Art Newspaper, 2008

"Some day in the not too distant future you'll be able to go to a movie and the movie will be all around you. The movie will be over your head, it will be 360 degrees around you" - Steven Spielberg, TIME, 2006

This 70-seat planetarium has a huge hemispherical image of 3200x3200 pixels, and through Digistar 3 technology and LED projectors it can take you through the human body, under the ocean or shrink you to the size of an atom, as well as display the wonders of space before your very eye.

National Space Centre, Leicester

The Sir Patrick Moore Planetarium is the largest in Britain and was opened by the monocled legend in 2012 shortly before his death. It's currently showing We Are Aliens, a film exploring whether or not we are alone in the universe, narrated by Rupert Grint of Ron Weasley fame. At weekends they do a presenter-led tour of the night sky.

There's heaps to see besides the Planetarium in the Space Centre – there's the 42-metre high rocket tower, which has changed the Leicester skyline somewhat, and the newly opened Professor Clegg's Fantastical Observatorium, which takes you on a virtual mission to discover planets, stars, nebula and comets as they hurtle past Earth. Awesome day trip for kids.

World Museum, Liverpool

The museum's 62-seater planetarium has 30-minute shows – you can currently see one about the spring night sky, exploring its myths and constellations, and a show about the history of the telescope. Entry is free, just collect a ticket from the information desk on the day.

Don't just go for the planetarium though. The whole museum is a feast for the brain and eye – lose yourself among Egyptian mummies, Samurai armour, Anglo-Saxon treasure, Javanese shadow puppets and the hypnotic splendour of the aquarium. And it's free. FREE! God bless museums.

South Downs Planetarium, West Sussex

This 100-seat planetarium in Chichester was opened in 2001 after a seven-year fundraising campaign, led by the project's patron Sir Patrick Moore. It's entirely volunteer run.

Over April you can see recreations of the Northern Lights and understand how they come about, explore the stars and planets visible in the springtime sky, understand our nearest neighbour the Moon and see the latest images from the Hubble telescope. What a splendid facility.

We are indeed blessed to have these awesome educational facilities at our disposal, but there's nothing like the real thing is there? Buy issue one now for our guide to the perfect stargazing kit, and get up them hills quick smart.