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: Planetarium shows cancelled for FRiday, February 16th! We apologize for any inconvenience - your lecturer was involved in a minor traffic accident. He is fine but the car isn't.
NASA Commercial Crew Takes Flight
January 5th and 26th
After a challenging development phase that saw annual funding shortfalls vs requests, NASA's two Commercial Crew providers are poised for the first test flights of the first US crewed spacecraft since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011. Both capsules are intended for initial use as crew "taxis" to the International Space Station, freeing NASA from exclusive dependence on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft to carry crews to and from the station and serve in lifeboat roles. With the SpaceX Dragon 2 and the Boeing Starliner moving toward first flight tests in calendar 2018, we will review and discuss this dawning new era in US spaceflight.
Starbirth in Orion's Sword
For millenia 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! Note that we have an observing session on the 19th targeting Orion!
Special Observing Event: Orion, the Seven Sisters, and the Winter Hexagon!
NOTE: As of the morning of 1/19, weather forecasts call fior cloudy/mostly cloudy skies at the time of the observing event - therfore we are cancelling the outside portion of the event, and will present the alternate indoor program described below.
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!
NASA Commercial Crew Takes Flight
See description for January 5th.
The TESS Mission: Exoplanet Targets for Webb
Currently slotted into a March, 2018 launch date, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) will fly to a novel orbit in a 2:1 gravitational resonance with the Moon, and search the near-solar neighborhood of over 200,000 stars for planets crossing between TESS and the parent star – "transiting" the parent stars' disks as viewed from the vicinity of Earth. These stars will be closer, and brighter, than the more distant stars the Kepler mission targeted in its exoplanet searches, and thus it will be possible to obtain more information on any planets discovered with the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope. JWST is looking at a Fall 2018 launch. TESS aims to set the table!
No shows February 10th – Campus closed!
The TESS Mission: Exoplanet Targets for Webb
Currently slotted into a March, 2018 launch date, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) will fly to a novel orbit in a 2:1 gravitational resonance with the Moon, and search the near-solar neighborhood of over 200,000 stars for planets crossing between TESS and the parent star – "transiting" the parent stars' disks as viewed from the vicinity of Earth. These stars will be closer, and brighter, than the more distant stars the Kepler mission targeted in its exoplanet searches, and thus it will be possible to obtain more information on any planets discovered with the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope. JWST is looking at a Fall 2018 launch. TESS aims to set the table, and we'll status both missions!
Special Observing Event: 8 Day Old Moon: Lunar Appenines, Alps, and the Straight Wall!
We'll continue our 2018 Observing calendar with a look at an 8 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!
Commercial Space Update
March 2nd and 9th
We live, in early 2018, in what are probably the final months prior to the dawning age of (mostly) privatized human space flight. Elon Musk's SpaceX, Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, and Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic all hope to be part of the first wave of private human space flight, as well as providing satellite launch services at lower cost than older players in the industry. Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen is investing in a launch system using a huge carrier aircraft plus rockets, and entrepreneur Robert Bigelow hopes to orbit his inflatable modules for a private space station. With NASA human spaceflight pivoting to a lunar return prior to heading for Mars, it's a fair question whether NASA will find commercial companies already operating on or around the Moon by the time NASA gets there with crewed Orion spacecraft. Musk also makes no bones about his intention to get humans by the dozens to Mars as rapidly as possible. We'll try to sort out likely near-term events in this ongoing evolution.
Neutron Stars, Colliding Black Holes, and Gravitational Waves
Guest lecturer Shelley Bonus will survey the cutting-edge discoveries in the new field of gravitational wave astronomy, made possible by the first detection of gravity waves in the summer of 2015 by LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory. Already resulting in a Nobel prize, this promising new field of study provides information about the universe not obtainable by any previous type of scientific tool. Shelley will bring you up to speed!
Tilt! Equoinoxes 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…
What's Your Zodiac Sign and Why? Astronomy/Astrology Myths and Facts
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.
Messier Marathon Observing Report
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 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 over-enthusiastic 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 March 17th attempt.
No programs April 13th
Special Observing Event: A Crescent Moon and Famous Double Star
We wrap up our Observing Events for Spring with a pretty five-day-old crescent Moon as our first target. After a quick prep indoors, we will head to the telescopes. The 100-kilometer crater Theophilus, with its complex central peaks, will be dramatically lit. After enjoying the Moon, we will turn our attention to the famous visual binary of Mizar and Alcor, the middle stars in the handle of the Big Dipper. Most people can see that the brighter star (Mizar) has a fainter companion (Alcor). The telescope, however was needed to reveal that Mizar is itself a pair of stars, and we will view this pair of pairs first with the unaided eye, then in telescopes. Mizar was actually the first telescopic binary (double star) ever documented, in the early 17th century. If clouds interfere, we'll view images of our targets inside the planetarium. DRESS WARMLY!
Mars INSIGHT Mission Preview
The Mars INSIGHT mission is scheduled to launch on May 5th, headed for a landing on the Red Planet on November 26th. With a spacecraft bus based on the Mars Phoenix lander which reached Mars in 2008, INSIGHT carries a different suite of instruments designed to probe the interior structure and heat flow characteristics of Mars. We'll preview this mission, take a look at the status of Mars programs world-wide, and talk a bit about the Mars 2020 rover mission in preparation now at JPL.
Summer Star Party Planner
May 4th and 11th
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 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.
NASA, ESA, and Private Investors back to the Moon? Why, and What About Mars?
The Moon is once more the near-term target for NASA, the European Space Agency, and private groups. Guest lecturer Shelley Bonus will explore these developments and how they relate to human prospects on Mars.
No public programs May 25th – Happy Memorial Day weekend!
The Parker Solar Probe: Touching the Sun
June 1st and 29th
Launching this summer, the Parker Solar Probe will follow a careful path using the gravity of Venus to gradually lower its orbit to within 4 million miles of the Solar photosphere, what we view as the apparent "surface" of the Sun. This is 8 times closer than any previous spacecraft, and will place the probe well inside the solar corona, the region where critical processes of space-weather happen. Understanding of this region is basic to developing reliable forecasting of space-weather events that directly impact life on Earth. Solar events can bring power grids down and damage the communication infrastructure of the entire Earth – effects our technology-dependent civilization can ill afford. If all goes well, Parker will spend the next 7 years unlocking the secrets of this unexplored region, along the way becoming the fastest-moving object ever created by humans.
Jupiter & Europa: Myths and Science
Guest Lecturer Shelley Bonus will provide updates on the newest findings from the Juno probe at Jupiter, and the status of the proposed Europa Clipper mission to investigate the habitability of the subsurface ocean of Jupiter's icy moon. (By the way – Juno was the wife of Jupiter, who was able to peer through clouds to reveal Jupiter's true nature and actions. Jupiter and Juno didn't always get along – find out why, in this celestial soap opera.)
Saturn Update! – New Proposed Missions
Saturn is without doubt the Jewel of the Solar System and the discovery of salty water plumes shooting from the ice-covered moon Enceladus was a stunning surprise. NASA is considering a new mission called "Enceladus Life Finder" to sample the plumes and do detailed analysis of their makeup, including the possibility of amino acids – possibly a sign of life in that subsurface ocean. Another proposal is a mission to the large moon Titan, called "Dragonfly", which would involve a sort of nuclear quadcopter flying in Titan's atmosphere surveying for possible life! Guest lecturer Shelley Bonus will bring you up to speed.
The Summer Solstice: Orbital Geometry and Cultural Celebrations
This year the Summer Solstice, marking the Sun's northernmost position in the skies of Earth, falls on June 21st. Astronomically, it is considered the first day of northern hemisphere summer. Culturally, it is marked with a myriad of traditional observances. Whether it is called Midsummer, St. John's Day, Enyovden, Sanziene, or one of many other names, summer solstice celebrations are an integral part of many cultures. We will survey the bonfire-leaping, maypole-dancing, wheel-turning, and love-declaring traditions of multiple cultures in addition to looking at the physical seasons for our planet's seasons – and their long-term variations.
The Parker Solar Probe: Touching the Sun
June 29th – (See June 1st)
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.
Human Spaceflight Update
As the planned first flights of new American crewed spacecraft loom, we will survey both the new "commercial" crew carriers from SpaceX and Boeing and provide latest details on flight schedules - which are likely to change between press time and this program. We will also cover the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle NASA intends to use to send crews beyond low Earth orbit in the early 2020s, Chinese space station activities, and the state of Russian vehicle development.
Special Observing Event: The Moon on the Anniversary of Apollo 11, Jupiter, and Saturn!
On the 49th anniversary of the first lunar landing, we'll start in the planetarium with a quick primer on our targets, then head outside to view the 8-day-old Moon and Saturn in telescopes. The Sea of Tranquility will be nicely lit, and Jupiter's belts and moons and Saturn's beautiful rings will be easily seen. If clouds interfere, we will view images of these targets and discuss Apollo 11 in the planetarium. Dress warmly!
The Grand Canyon Star Party – a Volunteer's Report
One of the premier astronomy outreach events in the western states 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 2018 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.
The Meteors of Summer: The Perseid Shower of August 2018
August 3rd and 10th
Peaking on the night of August 12th/13th, this year's Perseid meteor shower will enjoy a dark sky free of moonlight, so a trip away from city lights should be a rewarding one for those willing to stay up after midnight for the peak of activity. We'll discuss the nature of these "falling stars" and provide tips for getting the best views. (Hint: Get away from the glare of city lights, bring a comfy lounge chair and a warm beverage, and some good friends and/or family!)
No programs August 17th, 24th, or 31st. Fall programs begin on September 7th