The planetarium is built on what once was an artificial island on Lake Michigan. Northerly Island, as it is called, was the first of what was to be a series of artificial islands stretching south. The permanent land link was constructed soon after the planetarium was built.
Each of the twelve corners of the landmark 1930s building is decorated by a bronze plaque, which represents a sign of the zodiac. These plaques were created by sculptor Alfonso Ianelli.
The historic landmark building was designed by architect Ernest Grunsfeld whose grandson John Grunsfeld, Chicago native and Adler Astro Science Workshop alumnus, is a former NASA astronaut. Grunsfeld returned to space in December 1999 on the Hubble Telescope servicing mission.
The dedication plaque located in the Adler’s Rainbow Lobby depicts the gods and goddesses for which the planets are named. Pluto is missing because it was not discovered until February 18, 1930, after the plaque was created.
In 1933, light from the star Arcturus was converted into electrical signals, sent to the Adler and used to turn on the lights at the World’s Fair on opening night.
Originally, a series of twelve shallow pools representing each month of the year, donated by the National Terrazzo and Mosaic Foundation, led up to the entrance of the Adler. Flowerbeds later replaced the pools.
The 1970s “Glass Box” museum entrance has been removed and the underground exhibition area has been transformed into offices for Adler staff. Exhibitions that were once located underground have been relocated or incorporated in new museum exhibitions.
The Adler houses one of the world's finest collections of astronomical artifacts, including treasures such as the world's oldest known window sundial (dated 1529) and a telescope made by William Herschel. Some of the oldest artifacts in the collection date back to 12th century Persia.