We are now taking school show reservations!
Please Note: With ongoing construction on campus, parking can be challenging to find. Please carpool to minimize the number of vehicles, or better yet, take advantage of public transit options if possible. Please also note the minimum and maximum group sizes and fees below.
The planetarium is a unique tool for stimulating students and conveying the excitement of discovery. Santa Monica College's Planetarium has been serving Southern California for thirty years. We have experience with all age levels, from pre-school to senior citizens. Since our shows are presented live, we can tailor show content to fit any teacher's particular needs and specifications.
Our show begins by introducing children to the planetarium theater to help them feel at home. Our Digistar 2 projector, the first completely computerized planetarium in the L.A. area, initially recreates the starry sky as you would see it on a clear dark night - but can take us to many other environments.
As we seat our students, we begin to establish our journey as an inquiry into the forces and interactions which effect our bodies and the things around us in our daily lives, an inquiry which explores concepts highlighted in the current California STEM education standards.
With a quick discussion of the forces we experience sitting in our seats on Earth, we then consider those same forces in a different environment, using life in microgravity aboard the International Space Station as an example. Besides being fascinating in their own right, these videos let us explore the apparent absence of gravity - though we learn that this is not what it seems, and that gravity is present, but has had its local effects masked by the station's motion in a free-fall orbit around Earth. Except for the very earliest grade levels, we can then touch upon the mystery of the nature of gravity itself, emphasizing that understanding effects and even being able to use them to our advantage is NOT the same as understanding their fundamental nature! Along the way, depending on grade level, we might touch on electromagnetism and the other fundamental forces recognized in the current Standard Model, and older classes may delve a bit into recent detections of gravity waves and even directional neutrino observations (don't worry - we tread gently here!) depending on the student's areas of interest and time constraints. We transition to the simulated night sky after an initial powerpoint slide introduction following the videos, where we rapidly survey the solar system and discuss some current events in astronomy and space flight.
As a planetarium lecturer, I've found that many adults seem to have forgotten just how bright they were at fairly tender ages - for instance, in my experience, when the material is properly presented, 3rd graders have no trouble at all with the basic concepts of 4D spacetime curvature found in Einstein's General Relativity theory, and that fact allows us to delve into WHY we see things like black holes. A simulated flight into a black hole has long been a favorite part of our shows for all grades, and serves as a reminder that we can see many things in our universe that are still fundamentally quite mysterious and in need of more scientific detective work.
We discuss our place on the Earth, then show the sky as your class will see it that night so they learn how to find the constellations and planets from their own backyard. Motions of the sky are discussed, the North star is located, and bright visible planets will be pointed out. We look at constellation patterns on the dome, and discuss some of the stories told by these ancient connect-the-dots pictures with a slightly irreverent approach. The Milky Way is located in the sky, and we relate the "neighborhood" we live in to the rest of our galaxy or "city of stars", the Milky Way, a vast spinning pinwheel of hundreds of billions of stars, as seen from well outside our galaxy. We might then view the planets and other bodies in motion around our Sun from a simulated vantage point in deep space. We may travel deep into space to simulate a trip into a black hole, or experience the disorientation of a twisting ride on a mobius strip magically placed far out in space!
Content is tailored to each audience as gauged by your lecturer during the program. Older students may be able to spend more time considering things like gravity lenses resulting from the curvature of space-time by supermassive black holes and the recent first observations and use of gravity waves to open up a new field of research; younger students may have more emphasis on the sheer beauty of our universe.
Finally, we return to Earth at the end of our tour, and consider that Earth is part of the enormous cosmos astronomy reveals to us - and so are each of us.
The length and content of each show is scaled to the age/grade level of your group. Pre-school and kindergarten groups will have a show about 30 - 45 minutes long, depending on the group attention span, and we ask that group size be limited to a maximum of 25 students at these early grade levels. Grades three and above will have a show about an hour to an hour and 15 minutes long. We try to allow 10 minutes (at the teacher's discretion) after the show for the children to ask any questions they have about astronomy or space exploration - so third grade and above should plan for roughly 90 minutes in the planetarium if arriving on time. Especially inquisitive groups may dictate that I fold Q&A into the main body of the program, which I can happily do on the fly.
Charges for School Shows ( Presented Tuesday through Thursday, start times either 10:30 AM or Noon, though variations on these times are possible:
Groups of fewer than 20 (including adults): $100.00 NOTE: This is our minimum fee
Groups of 20+ (including adults): $5.00/person
School groups waiting to enter the planetarium should gather adjacent to the south side ground floor stairwell/elevator entrance to Drescher Hall, NOT on the second floor outside the planetarium entry door! Classes are being taught in adjacent classrooms and the inevitable noise is disruptive to SMC faculty. The same issue could arise if a classroom door is open to the outside on the ground floor, so please be mindful of surroundings and considerate of the other educators at work. Group leaders should make sure to exchange cell phone numbers with the planetarium lecturer at the time of reservation and coordinate via telephone. Bear in mind that we sometimes run two programs in a morning; if your program is an 11:30 start or later, you may be unable to reach the lecturer until the early program has concluded.
The maximum capacity of our planetarium theater is 50. Please limit your group size to this number - we cannot, by law, allow more than 50 inside the planetarium! We will be happy to arrange multiple shows if needed for larger groups.
Payment for programs is due upon arrival at the planetarium. Checks should be made payable to "Santa Monica College Events" and presented to your lecturer in the planetarium - please DO NOT MAIL CHECKS. Cash is also fine, but we cannot accept credit cards.
Please Note: Any school which cancels less than 24 hours before their scheduled show time is expected to pay a $60 late cancellation fee.
For information or reservations, please email the Planetarium Director, James Mahon at firstname.lastname@example.org.