What if you could bring the night sky inside? The best star projectors do just that, filling walls and ceilings with stars, constellations and more to create an immersive experience that can spark imaginations. Easy to use and simple to set up, star projectors come in many shapes and sizes and to suit a range of budgets as vast as the night sky itself.
1. Look for a simulation according to actual time and day.
2. The smaller the room, the sharper the stars will look.
3. Check how many disks come with each product.
4. Choose automatic shut-off if using it as a night-light.
Like everything else, with star projectors you get what you pay for. While those at the more affordable end of the market tend to concentrate on room-filling, colorful yet mostly novelty-style ambient projections of the kinds of objects you might see in the night sky, the more you pay the more accuracy you get — and the closer you get to a science-based planetarium-style experience. If the intended recipient is a child with a keen interest in the night sky, go for the latter, which are more impressive and educational.
One of the sleekest-looking and most powerful star projectors around, the satin black Sega Toys Homestar Flux comes with a huge price — and ambition to match. More of a home planetarium than a simple star projector, the Homestar Flux’s multilevel glass lenses produce wonderfully atmospheric and accurate projections that are beautifully bright and sharp to the edges. After adjusting the focus to suit you’ll see 60,000 stars — many more than on its competitors — and you don’t even need to use a completely dark room, thanks to the Homestar Flux’s brightness.
However, where this globe-like product really succeeds is with the sheer number of stars it displays and some tempting science-based upgrade options. It ships with two disks; one shows a starry sky with 60,000 stars while the other contains constellation labels. Like many other star projectors, there’s a "shooting star" function and an automatic switch-off after 15, 30 or 60 minutes.
Go to Astrial, Sega Toys’ official online shop and you can choose from 30 more disks. Simulation of the aurora borealis and the aurora australis are perhaps the highlights while the lowlight are those for annular and total solar eclipses, which merely shows the stages of partial eclipses overlaid on an image of the Milky Way. Not very realistic! Ditto one that shows the planets of the solar system, yet there are others that really impress, including some that display galaxies, nebulas and various NASA-based imagery. For example, the North America nebula as taken by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, and the weird seven-star system called Jabbah (officially called Nu Scorpii and IC 4592) as imaged by NASA’s WISE mission. You can also buy disks that simulate fireworks, ‘night jellyfish’ and a hot-air balloon festival.
The National Geographic Astro Planetarium is a high quality indoor planetarium for a good price that projects an accurate representation of the night sky — and it comes with plenty of extras. Two projection disks are included; one shows 8,000 stars and the other overlays guidelines for the major constellations. Crucially, what you see is true to the time and day you set it to.
It’s really easy to use. The buttons light-up blue, which makes it simple to rotate the image and adjust the focusing wheel in darkness. The result is a projection on the ceiling that’s bright and sharp (the optics in this planetarium are from German optics brand Bresser, which makes binoculars, telescopes and microscopes). However, stars right at the edge of the projection can seem slightly blurry.
One novel feature is an optional "falling star" mode, which projects a flashing meteor every 40 seconds, though always in the same place. However, it’s another unexpected feature that’s got nothing to do with astronomy that really makes this a standout.
In the box are four educational posters, three AA batteries to power it as well as a 3.5 mm jack cable, the latter of which can be used to hook-up a smartphone or other audio device to play through this star projectors’ small mono speaker. It’s also got an FM radio if you want to listen to music while you stargaze indoors.
Although not as garish-looking as the Bresser-made National Geographic Astro Planetarium, the Bresser Junior Astro-Planetarium Deluxe is an almost identical product. Available in a silver and black chassis, this incarnation has the same essential specifications and projections, and it works in the same way, but there are some notable differences.
The same Astro Planetarium Multimedia disks are included — one featuring a starry night sky and another featuring overlays of constellations — and it’s all completely accurate to the time and day you’re using it.
Best used to project from 2 meters, you can rotate the image through 360º using its built-in motors and it’s easy to adjust the image using a focusing wheel around the Bresser-made lens. It can be set to automatically shutdown after 30, 60 or 120 minutes, which is useful if it’s intended for a child’s bedroom and they want to fall asleep under the stars.
It’s also got a falling star mode, which can be activated to project a flashing meteor every 40 seconds.
Where the Bresser Junior Astro-Planetarium Deluxe really differs from the National Geographic Astro Planetarium is that it doesn’t include an integrated FM radio or an ability to attach an audio device. That’s a handy difference if you don’t want that functionality, and the Bresser Junior Astro-Planetarium Deluxe is thus available for a lower price.
Here’s a star projector that’s a more serious astronomical device than some star projectors, but only just. Shipping on a small tripod desktop stand, the Omegon Star Theater Pro Planetarium is powered by a USB cable, which means it can be attached to a portable battery source for special occasions – such as if you want to place it in the centre of a room.
The adjustable projection distance from 15 centimeters to 6.8 meters is handy, but although it illuminates the ceiling with a realistic night sky of 10,000 stars, it lacks brightness, ultimate sharpness and stellar accuracy. For example, you can’t adjust the time or day, hence you’re only getting a random starry night sky that lacks context, labels or constellation guides. It’s tricky to find anything you might recognise, though it does include the arc of the Milky Way.
So it’s good for anyone after a decorative night sky projection, but not necessarily very effective as a learning device.
What the resulting "space night lamp" does boast is a plethora of additional disks. Also in the box is an Earth/Moon/Sun disk, while online there are further options for disks showing a more detailed Milky Way, a star-forming nebula, the planets of the solar system from a flyover point-of-view, the Pinwheel Galaxy and conceptual art of the universe as a whole.
The Omegon Star Theater Pro Planetarium is also sold under the Uncle Milton brand so can play disks sold for similar Uncle Milton products.
Like most star projectors, this one has a useful ‘sleep time’ function that switches off the star projector after 30, 60 or 120 minutes.
Shipping with an adjustable desktop stand, you can aim the Smithsonian Optics Room Planetarium and Dual Projector Science Kit wherever you like and see the stars of the night sky across the ceiling and walls. In this default planetarium slide you can make the stars rotate and move, and use them either as the sole image or as a background to some other images that come from three other slides in the box. We’re talking 24 simple, still images of objects ranging from the sun, Earth, moon, asteroids and planets, the International Space Station, the Space Shuttle, an astronaut on a space walk, and deep sky sights such as galaxies and nebulas. It also includes a poster.
It’s definitely something for a child rather than an adult, not just because of its focus on pretty pictures, but the basic nature of its planetarium mode, which is little more than a rotating star pattern. It shows only the stars of the northern hemisphere and lacks labels and/or constellation guidelines, so whether or not it’s possible to learn anything from its projections is questionable.
Available in either black or blue and powered by four AA batteries, the Smithsonian Optics Room Planetarium also features a 15-minutes auto-shut-off so kids can fall asleep under the stars. As such, it’s best suited to young kids who’ve expressed an interest in space, but not those interested in the detail. It’s very simple to use, extremely affordable and will suit undemanding users with low expectations.
Imagine being immersed within a star cluster or drifting through a nebula. If you want scientific accuracy, look elsewhere, for what you get with the BlissLights Sky Lite 2.0 is a mesmerizing ambient experience that makes up for in creativity what it lacks in scientific rigor.
Designed for home offices, home cinemas, gaming rooms, spas, bedrooms and house parties, this laser-powered "galaxy projector" takes viewers on a journey through multicolored clouds. It uses an LED and a direct laser diode, which together create motion-filled RGB projections. Set-up is easy enough, with the round product having three ridges in its undercarriage that allows it to be set to project at three different angles, including upwards onto a ceiling. Positioning is further helped by a USB power cable, which means the Sky Lite 2.0 can be powered by a computer or from a portable battery.
This latest 2.0 version also includes the BlissLights smartphone app, which lets the user connect via Bluetooth then choose from seven built-in-effects modes, customise the projector’s intensity, the brightness of the laser, and the rotation speed. The app can also be used to create a custom colour blend. However, stars are always either green (if you buy the "Classic Green Stars" variant) or blue (if you buy the "Cobalt Blue Stars" variant).
It’s all impressively otherworldly, for sure, but Sky Lite 2.0 is best put alongside the likes of a lava lamp in terms of what it tries to achieve. However, if a hypnotic journey through an imaginary nebula (or is it aurora?) is the effect you’re after, this star projector delivers.
Sold in the U.K. as the Science Museum Create A Night Sky and elsewhere as the 4M Night Sky Projection Kit, this cardboard cut-out might not seem at first to be a worthy addition to our list of the best star projectors. After all, what’s on offer here is merely some small holes in cardboard positioned over a lamp. The resulting image is fairly basic, of course, but it’s how you get there that’s the clever part.
This is a great learning device. The aim is to build a globe-like night sky that’s then projected onto the night sky, so before we even get to the stars, children are introduced to the concept of the northern and southern hemispheres. Then they need to create holes where the major stars are, hence being introduced to the major stars and constellations in the night sky.
After that the hardware is pretty simple, too. A small lamp is provided on a square base, which requires 4 x AA batteries, which aren’t included. With a support fixed to each of the four corners, you then put the night sky domes over the lamp and — with the lights switched-off — the stars are both lit-up in front of you, and projected onto the walls and ceiling above. There are drawbacks, of course; the printed stars and constellations are back-to-front to ensure an accurate (but rather blurry) projection. It’s all fairly fiddly and time consuming, but that’s the point since it makes for an effective and affordable learning device. Just don’t expect anything more to result than a novelty night light for a child’s bedroom.