Our Special Observing Events rely on clear skies, and all of our programs are subject to change or cancellation. Please check this spot on 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.
Weather is GO as of 1:00 pm Friday for the January 24th Observing Event at 8 p.m. This is the final update - we will set up and proceed even if conditions look marginal. The Observing Event will be preceded, as always, by our 7 p.m. Night Sky program. Dress warmly!
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.
NOTE: If you want to see the constellations and sky motions using our star projector, this 7 p.m. Night Sky Show is the program you are looking for! The Night Sky Show costs $6 ($5 seniors age 60+ and children age 12 and under) and is presented on the following dates:
Friday, January 3, 10, 17, 24, 31
Friday, February 7, 21, 28
Friday, March 6, 13, 20, 27 AND Sunday, March 22 (See SUNDAY MATINEES below)
Friday, April 3, 10, 17, 24, AND Sunday April 26 (See SUNDAY MATINEES below)
Friday, May 1, 8, 15, 29
Friday, June 5, 12, 19, 26
Friday, July 10, 17, 24, 31
Friday, August 7, 14, 21
7 p.m. | Planetarium
SUNDAY MATINEES – An experiment, March 22nd and April 26th!
We have had requests from community members for weekend matinee programming, so we are going to do a trial – these programs will be slightly longer than normal, and will incorporate a short break between a shortened version of our Night Sky show and a similarly-shortened edition of that week's Feature program. Admissions priced as one show. See the Feature listings on 3/20 and 4/26. We may decide to continue these if we see enough attendance at these trials.
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. The 8:00 Feature Show ALWAYS follows the 7:00 PM Night Sky Show. For further information, please call (310) 434-4767. Admission is $6 ($5 seniors age 60+ and children age 12 and under).
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.
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
No Programs February 14th
_________________________________________________________________2020 Space Exploration Preview
February 21 and 28 after the 7:00 Night Sky Show
In the 2020 we should see multiple missions setting out for Mars, samples taken from asteroids, a new solar probe launch and more early science returns from another, the first lunar sample return mission since the 1970s, and at long last the first crewed flights of two American commercial crew taxis for the International Space Station. We will survey all of these things and more.
Special Observing Event – A gibbous Moon, the Pleiades, and (maybe) a VERY red star!
March 6 after the 7:00 Night Sky Show
We'll continue winter observing with a look at a 12 day old gibbous Moon and two of the delights of the late winter sky! Starting in the planetarium, we will discuss and view images of our target areas, then head outside to view the Moon, targeting Mare Imbrium, the biggest obvious impact basin on the nearside, and Copernicus and Plato craters. Moving on, we'll enjoy wide field views of the Pleiades (Seven Sisters) star cluster, and, depending on the sky conditions, may attempt to view R Leporis, AKA Hind's Crimson Star, a pulsating red giant about 850 light years away and one of the deepest red color stars in the sky. If clouds intervene we will view beautiful images of our targets in the planetarium. Dress warmly!
Project Artemis: NASA's Return to the Moon
March 13 after the 7:00 Night Sky Show
The Trump administration has announced a refocus of NASA crewed spaceflight on a return to lunar surface operations, with a stated goal of a first return to the lunar surface on the third flight of the SLS/Orion system, now being called Artemis 3 in planning documents, in 2024. A great deal of work must be done to accomplish a human landing in this time frame, the required funding 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 between press time and the date of this presentation.
TILT! Equinoxes and Solstices Explained
March 20 after the 7:00 Night Sky Show
PLUS Special SUNDAY MATINEE March 22, 1:00 PM – 2:15 PM
As we move through the Vernal Equinox on March 19th, 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
Charles Messier and the Faint Fuzzies
March 27 and April 3 after the 7:00 Night Sky Show
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, fuzzies 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. Guest lecturer Sarah Vincent will present images of many of these objects and discuss them and their locations in more detail.
The Magnificent Failure of Apollo 13
April 10 and 17 after the 7:00 Night Sky Show
We continue our 50th anniversary Apollo retrospectives with a look at what is now probably the second most famous Apollo mission – the harrowing voyage of Apollo 13. When the crew of Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert, and Fred Haise were almost lost due to an oxygen tank explosion aboard their Command ship, the lunar module "lifeboat scenario" became, literally, a chilling reality. We will look at the real thing minus movie exaggerations – truly the finest hour for NASA-of-Apollo!
Summer Star Party Planner
April 24 after the 7:00 Night Sky Show
PLUS Special SUNDAY MATINEE April 26 1:00 PM – 2:15 PM
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 will even have a chance to sign up for a notification list for a public meetup in a National Forest observing area this summer.
Special Observing Event – Gibbous Moon, Venus, and the Spring Sky
May 1 after the 7:00 Night Sky Show
We will see May in with a look at bright Venus and a nine-day-old gibbous Moon. Starting in the planetarium, we will discuss and view images of our target areas, then head outside to view our targets. Blazing-bright Venus will show a crescent phase in the eyepiece, and we will see dawn on the terraced walls of the lunar crater Copernicus. The famous double stars Mizar and Alcor ride high in the northeast in the handle of the Big Dipper, and we will sample other targets as the sky allows. If clouds intervene we will view beautiful images of our targets in the planetarium. Dress warmly!
Stellar Navigation to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse!
May 8th and 15th- after the 7:00 Night Sky Show
When the power grid fails, when society crumbles, when you are running for your life; what do you do? You look to the stars! We will do a practice run for the end of the world. We will start with a starry night, and figure out where we are using the clues above us. Sarah Vincent will guide you through the imagined perils with a steady hand and the stars in her eyes.
No shows May 22nd – Happy Memorial Day weekend
Summer Deep Sky Wonders
May 29 and June 5 after the 7:00 Night Sky Show
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, 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 this program presented by Sarah Vincent.
Mars Exploration Update
June 12 after the 7:00 Night Sky Show
As the 2020 Mars launch window looms this July, it's interesting to consider how many spacecraft are currently operating on and around the Red Planet. Our most earthlike planetary neighbor plays host at press time to 8 active spacecraft on the surface and in orbit, with that number due to hopefully increase in the near future. Before the next wave of new arrivals go through their suspense-filled critical orbit insertions or entry, descent, and landing phases, Sarah Vincent will bring you up to date on the probes already at work and some of their key findings.
Mars 2020 Rover, Huoxing 1, the Hope Probe, and ExoMars
June 19 and 26 after the 7:00 Night Sky Show
NASA, China, the United Arab Emirates, and the European Space Agency are launching the next round of robotic probes to Mars this July, and we will explore the mission launch windows; their journeys to the red planet, their projected orbits, and landing sites - and guest lecturer Sarah Vincent will also cover the instruments these roving and stationary laboratories carry on board.
No shows July 3 – Happy Independence Day weekend!
NASA Human Spaceflight Update
July 10 and 17 after the 7:00 Night Sky Show
By the date of this program NASA hopes to have flown crewed tests on both of the commercial crew vehicles for transportation to the International Space Station, and perhaps the first operational crew rotation. The Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle is moving toward test flights atop the massive new SLS booster in 2021 after a long development history. NASA planners look towards a human return to the Moon, and the orbiting facility called Lunar Gateway may or may not still be part of the plan by the time this program is given. We'll look at status of these and some other US private efforts – which could potentially render some of NASA's plans moot.
The Meteors of Summer: The Perseid Shower of August 2020
July 24 and 31 after the 7:00 Night Sky Show
Peaking on August 12th, this year's Perseid meteor shower will have some interference from a late-rising crescent Moon, but a trip away from city lights should still 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!)
After Apollo 13 – What Changed?
August 7 and 14 after the 7:00 Night Sky Show
After the safe return of Apollo 13 from that nearly-fatal mission, NASA was faced with the possibility of lunar missions being halted altogether if they could not quickly determine the causes and fixes for the actual accident, and solutions which would give future missions greater safety margins if faced with similar failures. All this would cost money, and time, at a juncture when the NASA budget had started to shrink after Apollo had achieved JFK's goal of a man on the Moon before 1970. This had far-reaching effects on the number and types of lunar missions NASA was ultimately able to fly as Apollo came to an end in late 1972. We will study this little-known juncture in the history of space exploration, including some fascinating might-have-beens, as part of our 50th anniversary Apollo retrospective series.
Special Observing Event: A Slender Crescent Moon, Jupiter, and Saturn
August 21 after the 7:00 Night Sky Show
For our final program of the summer, we will begin in the planetarium to discuss our targets and then head outside to view them – first, a quick look at the rapidly-setting 3-day-old crescent Moon, then the main targets, the beautiful gas giants Jupiter and Saturn. If the atmosphere is both clear and steady, we should easily observe Jupiter's cloud belts and the larger moons, as well as the stunning rings of Saturn, several moons, and the shadow of the planet falling on the back side of the rings. If clouds interfere, we will view beautiful images of our targets inside. Dress warmly!
Fall Programs will begin on September 11th