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.
Spring Session 2016
Gemini 7 and 6: When We Pulled Ahead in the Space Race – 50 year Retrospective
Half a century ago, as 1965 drew to a close, a remarkable pair of manned space flights made it clear to much of the world that for the first time since Sputnik, the United States was drawing ahead in the superpower competition for supremacy in the new arena of space exploration. The long endurance flight of Gemini 7 was punctuated by the twice-delayed launch of Gemini 6 and the world’s first space rendezvous, an essential skill for the aspiring lunar exploration programs of the superpowers. We will examine these flights in historical context with a personal perspective from our lecturer, who holds vivid memories of these heady days of the Space Race. This program has been rescheduled from the original December dates.
February 19 and 26
Gemini 8: First Docking in Space, First Close Call for NASA
We continue our 50 year Project Gemini retrospective with a look at Neil Armstrong’s other space flight. After the successful improvised rendezvous between Geminis Six and Seven, Gemini Eight was to perform the world’s first docking between two space vehicles in March of 1966. An ambitious spacewalk by future moonwalker Dave Scott was to follow the docking, but things got a little too exciting just minutes after Commander Neil Armstrong linked his spacecraft to the Agena target vehicle. The docked pair began rolling uncontrollably, and Armstrong and Scott, out of contact with the ground, were suddenly facing an imminently lethal glitch in space – the first such situation encountered by the American manned space program.
What Sign Are You? Pisces, Aries, Scorpio... or Ophiuchus? The Difference Between Astronomy and Astrology
Guest lecturer Shelley Bonus will give her lively take on the relationship between these two once-synonymous but now-sundered ways of looking at the sky, on a night when your regular lecturer is off attempting a Messier Marathon (See the March 25th program, below).
Special Observing Event: a gibbous Moon and Jupiter!
After a brief introduction in the planetarium, we’ll head to the telescopes for a look at an 11 day old gibbous Moon and Jupiter, our featured targets. We’ll have good lighting on several big lunar craters, and all four of Jupiter’s Galilean moons will be visible. If clouds interfere, we’ll view spectacular images of the Moon, Jupiter, and surrounding skies. Dress warmly!
Charles Messier and the Faint Fuzzies
18th century French comet hunter Charles Messier would probably be an obscure figure to modern astronomy enthusiasts had he not compiled a list of things he was not originally looking for. In his small refractor telescopes there were lots of fuzzy comet-like objects that did not move against the star background as real comets do. His nuisance list of these non-moving, faint, fuzzy objects became his chief historical claim to fame, for these are a fine list of the brightest galaxies, star clusters, and nebulae in the northern sky, and the reason you see “M” in front of the numerical designations for many beautiful objects in the night sky. Some amateur astronomers even try “Messier Marathons”, an attempt to view all 110 objects in the Messier catalog in a single dusk-to-dawn period, and your lecturer will report on his attempt this year. This is possible only in March and April, and we will view images of many of these objects and discuss them and their locations in more detail.
New Space Update
The emergence of multiple new companies as serious players in the space launch and spacecraft industries has been one of the most fascinating developments of the past decade. Often (though not always) founded by tech entrepreneurs with personal interests in space since childhood, big organizations like SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic, along with smaller companies like Firefly, XCOR, Masten, and many others seek to create seismic changes in an industry long based on a Cold War model of government dominated spaceflight. Large players like Boeing and Lockheed (and their joint venture, United Launch Alliance, which dominates US military launches) are facing completely new forms of competition and have had to react. While many New Space companies have failed over the years, others certainly look to be here to stay. It can be difficult – almost like Kremlinology – to get a clear picture of the workings of these new players, but we’ll do our best to summarize this dynamic field.
April 1 and 8
Solar System Exploration Update
New Mars missions by Europe, a failure-to-launch by NASA, arrival of a new orbiter at Jupiter, and launch of an asteroid sample return mission are just a few of the exploration highlights of 2016. We will present a broad survey of the status of human solar system exploration and venture a few speculations about the future.
April 22 and 29
With Jupiter high in the early May sky, it’s a good time to consider the beauty, mysteries, and sheer scale of this magnificent planet, which has more mass than the total of everything else orbiting the Sun! The Juno spacecraft is on target for a July 4th arrival in Jovian orbit, and guest lecturer Shelley Bonus will review what we do (and do not) know about the biggest world in the Solar System.
Saturn, the Jewel of the Solar System
The first view of Saturn in a telescope eyepiece is one of the experiences that can hook a person on astronomy. We won’t be using telescopes this evening, but rather the vivid words and images presented by guest lecturer Shelley Bonus. As Shelley says: “The rings! The moons! The beauty!”
Summer Star Party Planner
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, we’ll clue you in on where and when to go and what to bring to be a welcome star party visitor and participant. You will even have a chance to sign up for information about attending a public star party this summer hosted by your lecturer.
Gemini 9: Backup Crew, an Angry Alligator, and a Spacewalk Nightmare
Our 50th anniversary series on the Gemini program continues with a look at the June 1966 flight of Gemini 9. Flown by the backup crew of Tom Stafford and Gene Cernan after the prime crew was lost in a jet crash, Gemini 9 seemed snake bitten at the time. The planned docking with the Agena target vehicle was scrubbed along with the first launch attempt when the Agena did not make orbit. A backup docking target wound up being unusable, and Gene Cernan’s spacewalk turned nasty, with the spacewalker exhausted, effectively blinded by a fogged visor, and barely able to fold himself back into the seated position required to close the Gemini hatch. This was a closer call than NASA publicly admitted at the time, but many lessons were learned, directly benefiting the Apollo lunar program.
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, each with billions of suns. We’ll look at beautiful images of some of the finest deep sky objects 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.
Summer Session 2016
Juno at Jupiter
Launched in August of 2011, NASA’s Juno spacecraft will arrive in Jupiter orbit on July 4th. This first solar-powered Jupiter mission aims to map the gravitational field, magnetosphere, and internal structure of the massive gas giant planet, and will feature a crowd-sourced decision process on use of the imaging camera, a secondary payload aimed primarily at public outreach and education.
Special Observing Event – Crescent Moon, Jupiter, and Saturn!
After a quick discussion in the planetarium about our targets, we’ll head outside to telescopes to take in a beautiful dusk sky with the waxing crescent Mon near Jupiter in the western sky. As twilight deepens, we’ll swing our telescopes east for a quick look at the tiny disk of Mars before checking out the evening’s showy finale, magnificent Saturn with those beautiful rings. If clouds intervene, we’ll view images of our targets in the planetarium. Dress warmly!
The Grand Canyon Star Party – a Volunteer’s Report
One of the premier astronomy outreach events in the southwest is the annual Grand Canyon Star Party. Amateur astronomers from all over the USA volunteer to serve as Park Service outreach educators, bringing a wide variety of telescopes and personal styles to one of the most spectacular settings on Earth. Simultaneous events are held on both the North and South Rims of the Canyon. After getting hooked on the GCSP 20 years ago, SMC lecturer Jim Mahon has been back more than a dozen times. He will present images and stories from the 2016 North Rim Party, and try to convey the magic of sharing a dark summer sky above the stunning geology of the Canyon with visitors from all over the planet.
July 15 and 22
Gemini 10: Reaching Higher
Our 50th anniversary series on the Gemini program continues with a look at the July 1966 flight of Gemini 10. Coming just 6 weeks after the delayed launch of Gemini 9, Gemini 10 saw the first use of the Agena’s engine to boost the docked spacecraft into much higher orbits. The mission was commanded by John Young, who would go on to fly the first Space Shuttle mission in 1981, with pilot Mike Collins, who would serve as Command Module pilot of Apollo 11. Gemini 10 set an altitude record of and showed that the spacewalk difficulties of on the previous flight had not been a fluke. NASA had work to do on suits and equipment before heading for the Moon…
New Horizons at Pluto – One Year On
With a year elapsed since the climactic flyby of Pluto by the New Horizons spacecraft, we should be roughly two-thirds of the way through the continuing download of the mountains of data and images collected during that frenetic encounter. Why? The distance is so great and the power of the spacecraft’s transmitter so modest that the bandwidth is roughly 2 kb per second! Our cutting-edge explorer can thus only send results back at speeds comparable to an early dial-up internet connection! We will survey the results published to date, which will include spectacular images from the encounter which transformed our conception of Pluto from a dot of light or pixelated smudge in an image to a newly-surveyed small world.
August 5 and 12