Our Special Observing Events rely on clear skies, and all of our programs are subject to change or cancellation. Please check this spot the day of the show for any late changes and to make sure the weather is going to be cooperative for the observing events. Alternate shows will be announced if necessary.
September 6th: Weather looks good and we plan to go forward with our Observing Event this evening!
Shows (except selected guest lectures) are held in the John Drescher Planetarium, located on SMC's main campus in Drescher Hall Room 223. Admission to a single Night Sky or feature show or lecture is $6 ($5 seniors age 60+ and children age 12 and under). You can enjoy both the Night Sky Show and that evening's scheduled Feature Show or Guest Lecture for the double-bill price of $11 ($9 seniors and children). Visit the Planetarium website for more information.
The Night Sky Show
Our Digistar II planetarium projector recreates the celestial wonders of the ever-changing night sky—as you would see it far from city lights—in a 50-minute show updated weekly with the latest news in space exploration and astronomy. Bring the whole family to “tour” the constellations and ask questions about anything related to astronomy. The Night Sky Show costs $6 ($5 seniors age 60+ and children age 12 and under) and is presented on the following dates:
Friday, August 16, 23
Friday, September 6, 13, 20, 27
Friday, October 4, 11, 18, 25
Friday, November 1, 8, 15, 22
Friday, December 6, 13
Friday, January 3, 10, 17, 24, 31
Friday, February 7
7 p.m. | Planetarium
Feature Shows & Guest Lectures
Planetarium Feature Shows and Guest Lectures are presented at 8 p.m. on Fridays when the Night Sky Show is scheduled. For further information, please call (310) 434-4767. Admission is $6 ($5 seniors age 60+ and children age 12 and under).
50-Year Retrospective: The Flights of Apollo – The Lunar Receiving Laboratory, or What to Do with a Load of Moon Rocks?
When Apollo 11 returned from the first lunar landing, a (slightly questionable) system of biological quarantine for the crew and their lunar samples was put into action, from a sealed trailer aboard the aircraft carrier to the Houston isolation facility, the Lunar Receiving Laboratory. Operating until 1976, the LRL processed the 852 pounds of samples from all six Apollo landings, and the lessons learned were applied to multiple facilities where the samples now reside.
Friday, August 16, 23 | 8 p.m. | Planetarium
Special Observing Event: First-Quarter Moon, Jupiter, and Saturn
Take a look through various telescopes at the three finest targets for urban telescope viewing. The Moon, a day past first quarter, will present a great range of craters, “seas,” and mountains, while Jupiter’s cloud bands and major moons and the lovely, unreal-looking rings of Saturn will round out our target list. If clouds interfere, we’ll view high-resolution images in the planetarium. Dress warmly!
Friday, September 6 | 8 p.m. | Planetarium
Backyard Observing – Binocular Highlights of the Autumn Sky
Find out how to enjoy the highlights of the autumn sky at a convenient hour by using binoculars and recognizing a few familiar bright stars. Learn how to get oriented in the skies of a Southern California, what the numbers printed on binoculars mean, and what some interesting targets are to show to your friends and neighbors. If weather permits, the planetarium director will make available some binoculars for a look outdoors. If you have binoculars, bring them along. Dress warmly!
Friday, September 13 | 8 p.m. | Planetarium
TILT! Equinoxes and Solstices Explained
As we move through the Autumnal Equinox on September 23, most of us are only vaguely aware of what the equinoxes and solstices actually are. Using our Digistar planetarium projector and other imagery, 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….
Friday, September 20 | 8 p.m. | Planetarium
NASA’s Orion Crew Vehicle: The Long and Winding Road
Designed originally to be a general-purpose spacecraft to succeed the Space Shuttle in supporting the International Space Station, as well as missions beyond Low Earth Orbit, Crew Exploration Vehicle Orion has evolved through various design incarnations to emerge as a dedicated deep space vehicle for a crew of four, with a possible first flight in late 2020 or soon after.
Friday, September 27, October 11 | 8 p.m. | Planetarium
Special Observing Event: A Crescent Moon, Saturn, and a Pretty Double Star
Take a look through various telescopes at a fat six-day-old crescent Moon and always beautiful Saturn, as well as the pretty multicolored double star Albireo, riding high overhead in Cygnus, the Swan. If clouds interfere, we’ll view high-resolution images in the planetarium. Dress warmly!
Friday, October 4 | 8 p.m. | Planetarium
50-Year Retrospective: The Flights of Apollo – Ranger, Surveyor, and Lunar Orbiter – Scouting the Moon
As NASA prepared for the first lunar landings, it had a wealth of information from three robotic probe programs scarcely remembered today. The Ranger, Surveyor, and Lunar Orbiter programs helped answer NASA’s basic questions, including whether the lunar dust would even be able to support the weight of a crewed spacecraft. Conducted in the competitive atmosphere of the space race with the Soviets, these programs came and went in a brief span of time, but hugely increased our knowledge of the Moon. Note: This feature show will be repeated in Spring 2019.
Friday, October 18, 25 | 8 p.m. | Planetarium
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!
Friday, November 1 | 8 p.m. | Planetarium
Special Observing Event: A Gibbous Moon, the Ring Nebula, and a Pretty Double Star!
Gaze through a variety of telescopes at a fat 12-day old gibbous Moon and two of the delights of the early autumn sky! We will view the Moon, targeting the Copernicus crater, the Mare Imbrium (the biggest impact basin on the nearside), and the region of the Apollo 12 landing site in the Ocean of Storms. We’ll also look at the Ring Nebula and the pretty multicolored double star Albireo, the “head” of Cygnus the Swan. If clouds interfere, we’ll view high-resolution images in the planetarium. Dress warmly!
Friday, November 8 | 8 p.m. | Planetarium
50-Year Retrospective: The Flights of Apollo – Apollo 12 50 Years On – The Essential Mission
It’s easy to forget that our first lunar landing missed the landing site by several miles. If Apollo was to provide good science, the precision landing was paramount so scientists could target specific sites of interest for visits by the precious few flights. Apollo 12, commanded by Pete Conrad, was targeted to land in the Ocean of Storms, within walking distance of the Surveyor 3 probe. We’ll revisit this essential mission, which was launched into a rainstorm on November 14, 1969, and demonstrated that ionized hot exhaust gases of a large rocket make an excellent ground path for lightning.
Friday, November 15, 22 | 8 p.m. | Planetarium
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 remarkable planetary conjunction in 2 BC—a leading candidate for a scientific explanation for the Star of Bethlehem.
Friday, December 6, 13 | 8 p.m. | Planetarium
Special Observing Event: The Moon’s Straight Wall, The Seven Sisters, and the Hyades Cluster
Take a look through various telescopes at a 9-day-old waxing gibbous Moon and its fault scarp Rupes Recta, or the “Straight Wall,” which will look like a sharp, dark crack. Then gaze at the face of Taurus the Bull, composed almost entirely of stars in the Hyades Cluster, an important rung in the cosmic “distance ladder” used to estimate the range to more distant sky objects outside our galaxy. Finish up with views of the beautiful Pleiades star cluster — the Seven Sisters of Greek lore — one of the prettiest open clusters in the sky. If clouds interfere, we’ll view high-resolution images in the planetarium. Dress warmly!
Friday, January 3 | 8 p.m. | Planetarium
NASA Commercial Crew – Are We There Yet?
After a challenging development phase that saw annual funding shortfalls, NASA’s two Commercial Crew providers should have completed the early uncrewed test flights of the first U.S.-crewed spacecraft since the end of the Space Shuttle program by the date we present this feature show. Will either have flown with the crew by this date? With the SpaceX Dragon 2 having a successful uncrewed test followed by a test stand explosion during later propulsion tests, and the Boeing Starliner hoping for first test flights in late 2019, we will review this new era in US spaceflight.
Friday, January 10 | 8 p.m. | Planetarium
Starbirth in Orion’s Sword
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 January 24 targeting Orion!
Friday, January 17 | 8 p.m. | Planetarium
Special Observing Event: Orion, the Seven Sisters, and the Winter Hexagon!
With the Moon’s glare absent, we’ll explore the winter sky and the 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 also take a look at the lovely Pleiades Cluster. If clouds interfere, we’ll view high-resolution images in the planetarium. Dress warmly!
Friday, January 24 | 8 p.m. | Planetarium
Backyard Observing – Binocular Highlights of the Winter Sky
Find out how to enjoy the Winter Hexagon and other highlights of the winters sky at a convenient hour by using binoculars and recognizing a few familiar bright stars. Learn how to get oriented in the skies of a Southern California, what the numbers printed on binoculars mean, and what some interesting targets are to show to your friends and neighbors. If weather permits, the planetarium director will make available some binoculars for a look outdoors. If you have binoculars, bring them along. Dress warmly!
Friday, January 31 | 8 p.m. | Planetarium
Project Artemis: NASA’s Return to the Moon
The Trump administration announced a refocus of NASA crewed spaceflight on a return to lunar surface operations. The goal is to land on the Moon in 2024 using the third flight of the SLS/Orion system, now being called Artemis 3. A great deal of work must be done to accomplish this in a short time frame, the funding required may not materialize, and there are serious questions about the mission architecture and rationale. We will explore all of this and more, hopefully with some clarity as the NASA budget process moves forward. Note: We plan to revisit this subject during the spring semester.
Friday, February 7 | 8 p.m. | Planetarium