At 7 p.m.
– The Night Sky Show: this 50 minute presentation is an interactive weekly update on the night sky, with the latest news in space exploration and astronomy and a chance to ask any question about astronomy. We use our Digistar II planetarium projector to recreate the night sky with all of its celestial wonders!
At 8 p.m. – Feature Show: feature shows and guest lectures on a variety of astronomical topics. Special observing events in which opportunities are given to look through telescopes and other astronomical instruments are also offered from time to time.
Special Note: We LOVE small children - but children under 6 years normally do not make it through a complete indoor planetarium program without exceeding their attention spans. For this reason, we recommend that children of this age be brought ONLY to the occasional 8:00 pm "Special Observing" events, which are more hands-on since we go outside to observe in telescopes.
If you bring very young children to other programs, they will be admitted free of charge - because much of the time the presenter is forced to ask the parents to take them out of the planetarium when they begin to get restless and talkative. Please consider this before bringing very young children to our regular shows. We do happily arrange for preschool age group programs under the rules of our school shows. When the entire group is of this age, the content is adjusted, and the other audience members are not expecting a quiet environment!
Tickets may be purchased at the door (CASH ONLY) on the evening of the show 20 minutes prior to showtime, or in person at the SMC Theatre Arts Box Office (Theatre Arts Complex, SMC Main Campus; 8 a.m. to 12 noon Mon-Wed). Shows (except selected guest lectures) are held in the John Drescher Planetarium, located on SMC’s Main Campus in Drescher Hall Room 223.
Directions to the Planetarium.
Admission to a single show or lecture is $6 ($5 for seniors age 60+ and children age 12 and under). For the double-bill price of $11 ($9 seniors and children), you can enjoy both the Night Sky Show and the evening’s scheduled Feature Show or Guest Lecture.
Feature Show Schedule
Please Note: All 8 p.m. feature programs are preceded by the 7 p.m. “Night Sky” program described above. If you wish to see the constellations and sky motions, you want the 7 p.m. Night Sky show. All programs are subject to change in the event of an emergency or other unforeseen circumstances.
For more information contact the SMC Events Office at: (310) 434-3005 or email: email@example.com.
NOTE: Due to illness all public planetarium programs for March 22nd have been cancelled. We apologize for any inconvenience.
Ranger, Surveyor, and Lunar Orbiter – Scouting the Moon
February 15th and 22nd
As NASA prepared to attempt the first lunar landings a half-century ago, it had in hand a wealth of information thanks to three robotic probe programs that are scarcely remembered today. The Ranger, Surveyor, and Lunar Orbiter programs carried out NASA's initial surveys to answer basic questions including whether the lunar dust would even be able to support the weight of a manned spacecraft (there were those who thought it would not!). Conducted in the feverish, competitive atmosphere of the space race with the Soviets, who had their own lunar firsts, including the first look at the farside and first intact surface lander, these programs came and went in a brief span of time but hugely increased our knowledge of the Moon. We will try to give them their due!
Apollo 9 - Gumdrop and Spider
March 1st and 8th
We continue our 50-year retrospective of the manned Apollo missions with a look at the March, 1969 flight of Apollo 9. Today, almost nobody recalls this crucial first test flight of the complete Apollo spacecraft "stack" – the Command/Service Module (CSM) and Lunar Module (LM) in Earth orbit. Yet this complex and challenging mission incorporated numerous daunting "firsts" and was the pacing item dictating whether NASA was ready to move towards operations of 2 spacecraft in lunar orbit and on the surface. Apollo 9 also yielded some of the most beautiful images of the Earth's surface of any NASA flight up to that time. We'll look back at the flight of Jim McDivitt, Dave Scott, and Rusty Schweickart and place it in historical context.
Special Observing Event – A gibbous Moon, the Pleiades, and (maybe) a VERY red star!
We'll continue winter observing with a look at a 9 day old gibbous Moon and two of the delights of the late winter sky! Starting in the planetarium, we will discuss and view images of our target areas, then head outside to view the Moon, targeting Mare Imbrium, the biggest obvious impact basin on the nearside, and Copernicus and Plato craters. Moving on, we'll enjoy wide field views of the Pleiades (Seven Sisters) star cluster, and, depending on the sky conditions, may attempt to view R Leporis, AKA Hind's Crimson Star, a pulsating red giant about 850 light years away and one of the deepest red color stars in the sky. If clouds intervene we will view beautiful images of our targets in the planetarium. Dress warmly!
TILT! Equinoxes and Solstices Explained
As we move through the Vernal Equinox on March 20th, most of us are only vaguely aware of what the equinoxes and solstices actually are. We'll try to remedy this disconnect from the natural world, which makes most modern humans vastly less aware of the rhythms of the sky than our ancestors were. We'll also try to dispel some myths, like that egg-standing-on-end story
Solar System Exploration Update
March 29th and April 5th
By this early spring date, we should be seeing lots of the data from the New Year's Day encounter of New Horizons with the mysterious Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule. The early science from the Insight Mars mission may be coming in, and we'll also review the two Near-Earth Asteroid encounters in progress by Japan's Hayabusa 2 and the NASA OSIRIS-ReX mission. China's Chang'e 4 will have attempted, and hopefully succeeded, in making the first-ever landing on the lunar farside. The JUNO mission around Jupiter should also complete several more science passes around the gas giant's polar regions. All these and other solar system missions will be covered in this survey of humanity's collective quest to understand our home in the cosmos.
Special Observing Event – First Quarter Moon and spring skies!
We'll begin our observing events for the Fall with a look at a 7.7 day old first quarter Moon. With prominent craters like Alphonsus along the shadow line of the lunar terminator, the sightseeing will be rich and varied on our sole natural satellite, well placed high over our heads near Castor and Pollux, the twin bright stars of Gemini. Depending on sky conditions, we might try for a few of the brighter spring galaxies in Leo and Virgo, though these will require very transparent skies to show well from our urban location. Several star clusters will round out the evening's target list. We will discuss and view images of our targets in the planetarium, then head outside to view through telescopes. If clouds intervene we will view beautiful images of our targets in the planetarium. Dress warmly!
No Programs April 19th!
Summer Star Party Planner
April 26th, May 3rd
Gatherings of amateur astronomers to observe the evening sky are called "star parties", and summertime presents good opportunities for beginners to attend these events without having to deal with winter's cold and travel hazards. From local urban and suburban locations to high, dark mountains and deserts and National Parks, we'll clue you in on where and when to go and what to bring to be a welcome star party visitor and participant.
Special Observing Event – The Crescent Moon and a famous double star
After a quick intro in the planetarium, we will head outside as twilight deepens to view a six day old crescent Moon in telescopes. The landing sites of the first and last Apollo landings will be well lit, as well as features like the complex central peak of the crater Theophilus. We will also enjoy looks at Mizar and Alcor, a famous visual double star, which reveals further splitting in the telescope eyepiece. We'll grab a few other targets depending on sky conditions. If clouds intervene we will view beautiful images of our targets in the planetarium. Dress warmly!
Apollo 10 – The Dress Rehearsal
May 17th and 31st
We continue our 50th anniversary Apollo retrospectives with a look at the final flight before the first landing. After Apollo 9 checked out the complete Apollo spacecraft in Earth orbit, the next step was to send a complete Apollo "stack" to lunar orbit to practice operations there with two manned ships, and to go all the way to the point called "Powered Descent Initiation" (PDI) in the mission plan for the first lunar landing. This would take Commander Tom Stafford and Lunar Module Pilot Gene Cernan down to within 10 miles of the surface in a dress rehearsal for the first landing, while Command Module Pilot John Young flew solo. A few harrowing moments at a critical point led to some salty language from Cernan on an open mic, an unintentional NASA "first".
No shows May 24th – Happy Memorial Day weekend!
May 31st: See Apollo 10 program, above
Summer Deep Sky Wonders
The summer sky offers numerous gems to the observer, many of them far beyond our solar system – the realm of "Deep Sky Objects", or DSOs. The wonders of the summer sky show us star birth and death, the raw material of planetary formation, mature stars in tight spheres of a million or more and younger stars in looser associations, and literally countless distant galaxies, and discuss what they seem to be telling us about our universe. Tips for where to go to view these beauties for yourself will round out the program.
No Programs June 14th, 21st, or 28th
Special Observing Event – Thin Crescent Moon, Earthlight, and Jupiter
After a quick intro in the planetarium, we will head outside as twilight deepens to view a slender three day old crescent Moon in telescopes. At this thin phase, the unilluminated portion of the lunar nearside will clearly show the subtle shadings of Earthlight falling on the surface. After exploring the rapidly-dropping Moon, we'll switch to the mighty gas giant Jupiter, rising in the southeast near the red giant star Antares. Jupiter's main cloud belts and the four largest moons should show well. We'll grab a few other targets depending on sky conditions. If clouds intervene we will view beautiful images of our targets in the planetarium. Dress warmly!
NASA Human Spaceflight Update
July 12th and August 2nd
By the date of this program NASA hopes to have flown crewed tests on both of the commercial crew vehicles for transport to the International Space Station. The Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle is slowly moving toward test flights in fully-developed configuration atop the massive new SLS booster in 2021 after a long and twisted development history. NASA planners are looking towards human return to the vicinity of the Moon to assemble a human-tended facility called Lunar Gateway. We'll look at status of these and some US private efforts – which could potentially render some of NASA's plans moot.
Journey to Tranquility Base: Apollo 11, 50 Years On
July 19th and 26th
With the needed preliminary flights completed successfully, NASA continued the frenetic every other month launch pace of 1969 with the first attempt at a lunar landing in July. Up to this point, not just the Apollo 11 but also the Apollo12 crew were training for attempting a first lunar landing in 1969. As always, NASA had contingency plans, and JFKs decadal deadline was treated as a component of program success. Gemini veterans Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Mike Collins flew Apollo 11, and as we now know the first landing attempt was a success. We will break down the mission and try to summon up the magic of that July moonwalk evening with original TV clips. Bonus for those interested will be a chance to view up to an hour of extended footage of the first moonwalk after a brief intermission at about 9:00.
NASA Human Spaceflight Update – (see July 12th description above)
Special Observing Event – The Straight Wall on the Moon, Jupiter, and Saturn
After a quick intro in the planetarium, we will head outside to view a nine day old gibbous Moon in telescopes. At this phase the fault scarp known as Rupes Recta, or the "Straight Wall" looks like a sharp, dark crack across a section of lunar mare, and the eastern, terraced inner walls of Copernicus crater are well placed and lit for observing. We will also enjoy looks at gas giant Jupiter and also Saturn with those gorgeous rings. If clouds intervene we will view beautiful images of our targets in the planetarium. Dress warmly!
The Lunar Receiving Laboratory, or, What To Do with a load of moon rocks?
August 16th and 23rd
When Apollo 11 returned in triumph from the first lunar landing, a huge system of (slightly questionable) biological quarantine for the crew and the samples they brought home with them swung into action, from the sealed trailer aboard the aircraft carrier to the elaborate isolation facility in Houston called the Lunar Receiving Laboratory. This facility operated until 1976 and processed the 852 pounds of samples from all six Apollo landings in a secured, isolated environment. Eventually, lessons learned were applied to multiple follow-on facilities, where the samples now reside. We will review the history of the LRL and the ongoing research use of these bits of the Moon.
No Programs August 30th
Fall Programs will begin on September 7th