Laser Gazers: The Science Behind Laser Shows


Choose from a spectacular, fulldome show in state-of-the-art Sudekum Planetarium; hands-on, interactive, science exhibits; or one of our award-winning programs like daily Science Live! demonstrations, 3D Printing Workshops, ScienceQuest Camps, Science Cafes, and other special events.

  800 Fort Negley Blvd., Nashville, TN 37203

 OPEN DAILY: Mon-Sun, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
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Adventure Science Center Blog

Science Educators and guest authors exploring our world and the science and technology that connects us.



Laser Gazers: The Science Behind Laser Shows

Laser shows in the Sudekum Planetarium are an exciting mash-up of music, science and technology.

But what exactly are lasers? And what else are they used for, other than creating fun and engaging shows in our planetarium?

Think about sunlight. We perceive sunlight as “white”, but that light is actually a mix of waves travelling at lots of different wavelengths. All of those wavelengths correspond to different colors of light, but when they mix together we see them as “white”.

Lasers are different from natural light because they only emit one wavelength of light that is created artificially. To make a laser, atoms in a crystal or other medium are “excited” by energy, over and over, so their electrons are stimulated to give off more light. Mirrors are used to keep the energy bouncing around in the medium until the laser emits a super powerful and very concentrated beam of light. All of the wavelengths in a laser beam are moving together, which is why laser light is monochromatic.

Did you know that “laser” is actually an acronym? LASER stands for light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation - which is a short explanation of how lasers work.

The first laser was built in 1960 by an American engineer named Theodore H. Maiman. This first laser was called the “ruby laser” because it gave off bright red light. Now, lasers of all kinds - even wavelengths invisible to the human eye - are used in our everyday lives for applications like:

  • Cutting tools - for example, laser eye surgery
  • Barcode scanners
  • Transmission of information over long distances
  • Lidar technology, also called 3D scanning
  • Laser tag
  • And of course, laser shows!

At the Sudekum Planetarium, our laser shows feature an incredible system designed to sweep brilliant laser light all around you on the planetarium dome. Combined with our digital and star projection systems, our shows are an immersive musical experience unlike any other.

While lasers are useful, and sometimes fun, they can also be dangerous. You’ve probably heard that you aren’t supposed to point a laser beam in anyone’s eyes - but a handheld laser pointer is most likely not powerful enough to cause permanent retinal damage. More powerful lasers, though, can cause permanent eye damage and burn your skin or other materials. But fear not: we have systems in place to ensure our laser shows are completely safe for your viewing enjoyment.

Has all this talk about lasers made you excited to see a laser show? See the upcoming schedule of shows, or join us the second Saturday of every month for our after-hours laser lineup!

Posted by Carly Vaughn at 9:10 AM
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800 Fort Negley Blvd. Nashville, TN 37203
Hours: 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.
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