Friday Evening Public Shows
- At 7 PM - 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 PM – 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 95% of the time I am 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 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. Click here
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 8:00 PM feature programs are preceded by the 7 PM “Night Sky” program described above. If you wish to see the constellations and sky motions, you want the 7:00 PM 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: Our star projector is currently down - this means that the 7:00 PM Night Sky programs will use alternate programming with our LCD projectors, but WITHOUT star fields projected on the dome. We do not yet have a firm date for star projector repairs but hope to be on line by early February. The 8:00 PM feature programs are not affected.
Special Observing Event: A 9 Day Old Moon and Winter Clusters!
We’ll start our 2017 Observing calendar with a look at a 9 day old waxing gibbous Moon as our featured target. After a brief discussion in the planetarium we will head outside to the telescopes. We’ll have good lighting on the lunar Apennines and Alps, the Alpine Valley, and Rupes Recta, the “Straight Wall”. With low power scopes, we’ll frame the entire beautiful jewel box of M45, the Pleiades star cluster, and may also have a look at some other pretty winter star clusters. If clouds interfere, we’ll view spectacular images of our targets in the planetarium. Dress warmly!
A Failure of Imagination – The Tragedy of Apollo 1
Just two months after the triumphant finale of the Gemini program, NASA and the world were rocked by the loss of three astronauts on the ground. The inaugural crew of the Apollo program, Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee, died in a matter of seconds in an oxygen-accelerated fire during a ground test of their spacecraft atop its Saturn IB booster. The fire, the following investigation, and the devastating findings that resulted, might have stopped the lunar program in its tracks fifty years ago this month. We will examine the accident and some of the surprising ways in which fixes that resulted probably wound up saving at least one Apollo crew’s lives in space.
Starbirth in Orion’s Sword
For millennia humans have gazed at the great winter figure we call Orion and seen a heroic human figure. For the Greeks it was a hunter with his faithful dogs at his heels. Deep in the sword of Orion, visible to the unaided eye, is a massive complex of dust and gas, which we now know to be an active star formation region. We’ll explore this Great Orion Nebula with stunning images from ground and space telescopes and discuss recent discoveries that reveal the hundreds of potential planetary systems forming within!
Planetarium Programs originally scheduled for January 27th have been cancelled.
Go at Throttle Up – The Loss of Challenger
January has been a cruel month for American crewed spaceflight. This last month marks the 31st anniversary of the loss of space shuttle Challenger and her seven person crew. The institutional lessons of Challenger, as brought to light in the subsequent investigation, were sadly forgotten in your lecturer’s opinion, as similar organizational issues reared their heads again in February of 2003 with the loss of shuttle Columbia. Space flight is difficult and inherently risky, but the greatest dangers seem to originate not in the energies and velocities involved, but rather in human factors issues apparently endemic to large hierarchical organizations.
No shows February 10th – Campus closed!
The Little Rover That Did – Opportunity's 13 years on Mars
January 25th marks the 13th anniversary of The Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity's landing on the red planet. With a VERY extended mission in hand, we will review the hugely successful career of this durable little robot and take a look at the state of Mars exploration.
Cataloging The Sky
As astronomy moved into the telescopic era, the rapidly growing numbers of objects available to observers forced astronomers to organize this exploding trove of information into various lists, ever-growing and ever more specialized, a practice which has continued to the present day. We see object designations like M31, NGC 4565, B33, and so forth and they seem a foreign language, available to only a few. Arcane jargon can make one feel intimidated approaching a subject as grand as astronomy. But the truth is that these are just tools, and with a little deciphering, you can quickly feel at home amidst the alpha-numeric soup of designators. We will trace the development of several of the best known catalogs and do our best to de-mystify the language!
Special Observing Event – Crescent Moon and Open Clusters!
A fat six-day-old crescent Moon and the Pleiades cluster headline tonight's telescopic targets. We'll start in the planetarium for a quick primer on our targets for the session, then head outside for viewing in a selection of telescopes. Lunar highlights will include the Sea of Tranquility including the Apollo 11 landing site area at dawn (though you can't see any of the mission hardware in our scopes!). With a wealth of open clusters of youngish stars overhead, we'll begin with the Pleiades, the seven sisters of Greek mythology, then move to several open clusters in the constellation Auriga, high overhead. If clouds intervene we will view images and discuss the Moon and Jupiter in the comfort of the planetarium. 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 telescopes he saw 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. 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.
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…
The James Webb Space Telescope: NASA's Next Big Thing
March 24th, March 31st
After years of delays and cost overruns, NASA's scientific successor to the Hubble Space Telescope is beginning to come together in laboratories and manufacturing facilities around the world. With a price tag now projected to approach 9 billion dollars, JWST has profoundly impacted the space science budget process for nearly a decade, but survived every attempt to end the program. We will take a close look at this program's difficult gestation and the tradeoffs needed to keep it moving towards a hoped-for 2018 launch.
Special Observing Event – Gibbous Moon and Jupiter in the eyepiece!
With an 11-day-old waxing gibbous moon in the sky, we'll start in the planetarium for a quick primer on our targets for the session, then head outside for viewing in a selection of telescopes. On the Moon we'll be highlighting the dramatic shadowing along the terminator, the transition from lunar night to day. Terraced craters and fault-wrinkled ancient basaltic lava will be clearly visible in the eyepiece. After examining our nearest celestial neighbor, we will look to the largest planet of the solar system, mighty Jupiter! If the air is steady, we will easily see the main equatorial cloud bands and the four largest moons of Jupiter in our telescopes. If clouds intervene we will view images and discuss the Moon and Jupiter in the planetarium. DRESS WARMLY!
Galaxies, Galaxies, Everywhere!
April 14th, April 21st
After Edwin Hubble's determination in the 1920s that the "Spiral Nebulae" were star cities comparable to our own Milky Way, the study of other galaxies became a research hotbed. Galaxies were identified, catalogued, and their structures classified into various descriptions – Spiral, barred spiral, elliptical, irregular, peculiar. Our information on these other major cosmic building blocks has expanded with our ability to detect different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, allowing us to "hear" the radio voices of galaxies, look deep into dark dust clouds and "see" gamma and X rays from the energetic cores of galaxies millions of light years away. Galaxies exist in associations known as clusters, and are distributed like the walls of soap bubbles across vast distances in the universe. We'll survey the current state of our knowledge and view beautiful images of these fascinating objects.
Summer Star Party Planner
April 28th, May 12th
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. You can even sign up for information on joining a group of amateur astronomers at a dark sky site in July.
Special Observing Event – Gibbous Moon and Jupiter in the eyepiece!
With a 10 day old waxing gibbous moon in the sky, we'll start in the planetarium for a quick primer on our targets for the session, then head outside for viewing in a selection of telescopes. On the Moon we'll be highlighting the dramatic shadowing along the terminator, the transition from lunar night to day so prominent with the near side partly lit. Terraced craters like Copernicus and fault-wrinkled ancient basaltic lava plains will be clearly visible in the eyepiece. After examining our nearest celestial neighbor, we will look to the largest of all planets of the solar system, mighty Jupiter! If the air is steady, we should be able to easily see the main equatorial cloud bands and the four largest moons of Jupiter in our telescopes. If clouds intervene we will view images and discuss the Moon and Jupiter in the comfort of the planetarium. DRESS WARMLY!
May 12th – Summer Star Party Planner – see April 28th description
NASA Human Spaceflight Update
May 19th, June 2nd
Six years after the final flight of the Space Shuttle, the United States still lacks a domestic human space launch capability. Access to the International Space Station is solely via Russian Soyuz spacecraft, for which a hefty price is paid per seat. Two different commercial spacecraft are in development for ISS "taxi" duty, but funding has consistently fallen short of requests so schedules have slipped. Latest estimates have both the SpaceX and the Boeing crew capsules in danger of not going operational before the final contracted Soyuz flights in early 2019. Meanwhile, NASA's deep space exploration capsule, Orion, looks to a murky future with a change of administrations and an uncertain first flight date with an ill-defined mission. Will "Journey to Mars" remain the NASA mantra, or is a return to the Moon in the offing? A few months into the new administration we should have some sense of what is coming.
No public programs May 26th – Happy Memorial Day weekend!
Juno Science Update
June 9th , June 16th
The Juno Jupiter orbiter reached the giant planet in July of 2016, and close passes above the Jovian poles are already changing scientists internal models of the largest planet in the solar system. Science returns have been slowed by engine glitches that delayed dropping into a shorter orbit for more frequent science passes, which at press time are happening every 53 days, but by mid-2017 we should have a great deal to report on this exciting mission. Is there indeed a solid core to Jupiter? That is one of the basic questions Juno may answer, and we'll bring you up to date!
Summer Deep Sky Wonders
June 23rd, July 7th
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 your self will round out the program.
No Public Programs June 30th
Last-Minute Planning for the August 21st North American Solar Eclipse
July 14th and July 21st
So, you want to view the August 21st total eclipse of the Sun but failed to plan a year in advance and can't find any hotel rooms or campgrounds? This program will trace out the path of totality and suggest possible strategies, as well as covering safe eclipse viewing. And, while a partial eclipse is not nearly as amazing as the spectacle of totality, for those who must remain in L.A., we will provide a description and timeline of the partial eclipse as it will appear locally. We will also discuss the next North American total eclipse of the Sun in 2024.
Cassini's Grand Finale at Saturn
July 28th and August 4th
The NASA Cassini mission to Saturn, orbiting the ringed planet since 2004, has already given us some of the most unforgettable images in the history of space exploration, and enters its final stages with a destructive dive into the cloud tops of Saturn on September 15th. We will review the latest images of Saturn – from a risky vantage point between the rings and the planet - and the many discoveries made by Cassini as this epic mission moves into its final month.
Solar System Exploration Review
The end of the Cassini mission is an opportune time to review the state of humanity's robotic solar system exploration efforts. What new missions are in the works, and who is proposing to carry them out? Will we see more near-term exploration missions from relatively new players like China and India? Will Mars exploration move into a new phase aimed to directly support the eventual mounting of human missions to the Red Planet? We'll try to illuminate these and other questions!
No public programs August 18th, 25th, or September 1st