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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Late 1968: Prelude to Tranquility
September 7th and 28th
Working within what amounted to a technological bubble within the political and social upheaval of America in late 1968, the people of the Apollo program stood poised to produce the visible string of manned missions that would culminate in the triumphant landing of Apollo 11 on the Moon the following summer. But exactly 50 years ago, none of this seemed inevitable - the Apollo spacecraft had killed the last crew preparing to test fly one, the lunar module was behind schedule, and the mighty Saturn V booster had nearly shaken itself to bits on its second test flight. NASA management was considering a truly bold and highly risky mission plan prompted by intelligence reports of a Soviet plan to upstage Apollo. Much of this is forgotten now but we'll remember it as we kick off our 50-year retrospective of The Flights of Apollo.
Special Observing Event – Crescent Moon and Saturn!
We'll begin our observing events for the Fall with a look at a 5 day old crescent Moon and the always amazing ringed wonders of Saturn. We will also give Mars, 6 weeks past closest approach, a quick look to wind things up, though details may be difficult on the Red Planet as it will be fairly tiny in the eyepiece, and we might try a few other targets of opportunity depending on sky conditions. 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!
TILT! Equinoxes and Solstices Explained
As we move through the Autumnal Equinox on September 22nd, 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
September 28th – See "Late 1968: Prelude to Tranquility" program listed above
Apollo 7: The Moon Ship Takes Flight, Grumpily
October 4th and 19th
Fifty years ago, in October 1968, the first manned Apollo mission at last left the launch pad. Wally Schirra, Walt Cunningham, and Donn Eisele put the Apollo Command and Service Module through its paces on a comprehensive 10 day test flight in Earth orbit. The mission was the first American flight of a 3 person spacecraft, featuring the first widely-seen live television from space, but all was not sweetness and light between the crew and mission control during this flight – things got downright testy. Perhaps it was the head cold that mission commander Wally Schirra dealt with (he would be seen doing cold medicine commercials after he retired post-flight), or the accumulated stresses of flying the mission intended for the dead comrades of Apollo One, or the time pressures of JFK's looming decadal deadline pressing on everyone and overloading the flight plan, but Apollo 7 was notable for both technical success and air/ground discord. We'll relive this first manned Apollo mission with vintage images and video.
Water and Ice! Comets, Asteroids, Dwarf Planets and Cryovulcanism, Oh My!
Guest Lecturer Shelley Bonus will cover our evolving understanding of the origin of water on our Earth and the plentiful water in both liquid and ice form in and on other solar system bodies like moons, asteroids comets and dwarf planets like Pluto, some of which have cryovolcanos.
October 19th – See "Apollo 7" program listed above, October 4th
Special Observing Event – A Gibbous Moon, the Ring Nebula, and a pretty double star!
We'll continue Fall observing with a look at a fat 11 day old gibbous Moon and two of the delights of the early autumn sky! Starting in the planetarium as twilight slowly deepens, we will discuss and view images of our target areas, then head outside to view the Moon, targeting the Mare Imbrium, the biggest obvious impact basin on the nearside, and Copernicus crater. As we move into full darkness, we'll finish up with a view of the Ring Nebula and the pretty multicolored double star Albireo, the "head" of Cygnus the Swan, almost directly overhead. If clouds intervene we will view beautiful images of our targets in the planetarium. Dress warmly!
Holiday Telescope Buyer Survival Guide
Considering a holiday gift of a telescope for that budding young scientist or newly star-struck adult? You'll quickly find a bewildering array of choices and a whole new jargon when you shop for a telescope. We'll de-mystify things and provide some concrete examples and recommendations for first-time telescope shoppers. We've timed this program early enough to let you get to good suppliers BEFORE they sell out of the best starter instruments!
Ranger, Surveyor, and Lunar Orbiter – Scouting the Moon
November 9th Note: This program will be presented during the spring session, date TBD
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!
Special Observing Event – The Straight Wall on the Moon and the Seven Sisters
NOTE: All public planetarium shows on November 16th have been cancelled
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 wide field views of the beautiful Pleiades star cluster, the Seven Sisters of Greek lore, one of the prettiest open clusters in the sky and a harbinger of approaching winter! If clouds intervene we will view beautiful images of our targets in the planetarium. Dress warmly!
No shows November 23rd – Campus closed - Happy Thanksgiving!
A Winter's Solstice
As we head into the holiday season, we'll discuss the history of various ancient observances of the Winter Solstice, and how they have evolved and melded with our later Judeo-Christian holidays. People have long felt the need to face the coming of winter with festivities, and customs like the burning of the "Yule Log" and hanging of evergreens seem to far predate the celebration of Christmas in December! We'll also have a look at a re-creation of a remarkable planetary conjunction in 2 BC - a leading candidate for a scientific explanation for the Star of Bethlehem.
Apollo 8 – Leaving the Cradle and "Saving 1968"
December 7th and 14th
When Apollo 7 showed the Block 2 Apollo Command/Service Module (CSM) to be exceptionally spaceworthy, NASA faced a conundrum - the Lunar Module (LM) was behind schedule and would not be ready for manned flight for several months, but the end of the decade loomed, and nobody assumed that the first attempt at a lunar landing would succeed. Time pressed, and without a LM, the original mission sequence was stalled – so NASA decided to throw a Hail Mary pass during the December 1968 launch window, which included the Christmas holiday. They would place a crew on the third Saturn V and send them all the way into lunar orbit without a LM. This was a jarring change for planners and managers and a serious calculated risk, but also pushed the program past many milestones they needed to accomplish to have a realistic chance of making Kennedy's deadline. Fascinated, we watched as human beings left the gravitational sphere of our home planet, viewing the Earth as a small sphere in the blackness of space for the first time. The live television of that blue marble (though the TV was in black and white) was awe-inspiring in the extreme for those of us lucky enough to have experienced it at the time. Using original images and video from the mission, your lecturer will try to re-create those heady days, including the famous reading of the first few verses of Genesis from lunar orbit on that magical Christmas Eve 50 years ago, from the perspective of a wide-eyed 13-year-old space junkie.
No programs December 21st or 28th – Happy Holidays!
Mars INSIGHT – First Looks
January 4th and 11th
With landing on November 26th, INSIGHT should either be well into its surface operations or we should have a good idea of what happened to prevent that happy outcome by the date of these programs. We will review the latest images and information from INSIGHT as the first attempts are made to take the temperature and pulse of Mars, hopefully accompanied by interesting images of yet more new terrain on the red planet.
NASA Commercial Crew – Are We There Yet?
January 18th and 25th
After a challenging development phase that saw annual funding shortfalls vs requests, NASA's two Commercial Crew providers should have the first un-crewed test flights of the first US crewed spacecraft since the end of the Space Shuttle program completed by the date of this program. Will either have flown with crew by this date? We shall see - and will update you on this crucial phase of regaining American human spaceflight capability as our reserved seats on Russian Soyuz flights run out. Both capsules are intended for initial use as crew "taxis" to the International Space Station, freeing NASA from exclusive dependence on the Russian Soyuz to carry crews to and from the station and serve in lifeboat roles. With the SpaceX Dragon 2 and the Boeing Starliner hoping for first test flights in 2018, we will review this new era in US spaceflight.
Special Observing Event: Orion, the Seven Sisters, and the Winter Hexagon!
With the Moon's glare absent this week, we'll explore the winter sky and the bounty of bright stars surrounding its signature constellation, Orion the Hunter. Embedded in the Sword of Orion is the mighty Orion Nebula, the closest large area of star formation to the solar system. We'll begin in the planetarium and then head outside for viewing through telescopes. Among the stars around Orion we will find the lovely Pleiades Cluster. If clouds interfere, we'll view spectacular images of the nebula, and surrounding skies. Dress warmly!
No shows February 8th – Campus closed!
Spring Programs will begin on February 15th