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Equinoxes, Neutron Stars and Commercial Space Flight at the Santa Monica College Planetarium

 

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February 20, 2018 -- Can a billionaire beat NASA to the moon? Can an egg be balanced on its end during the equinox? And what is a gravitational wave?

Those are some off the questions that will be answered next month during five feature shows on Fridays at 8 p.m. at the Santa Monica College John Drescher Planetarium.

Neutron Star Forming
Caption: The swirling flow of gas hovering just a few miles from the surface of a neutron star (Courtesy of the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics (CITA) and NASA)

The shows kick off on March 2 with “Commercial Space Update,” the latest on the quest by billionaires Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson’s "to be part of the first wave of private human spaceflight," event organizers said.

"With NASA human spaceflight pivoting to a lunar return prior to heading for Mars, speculation is that commercial companies will already be operating on or around the Moon by the time NASA gets there with crewed Orion spacecraft," organizers said.

Musk’s SpaceX, Bezos’ Blue Origin and Branson’s Virgin Galactic also plan to "provide satellite launch services at lower cost than older players in the industry."

The show will be repeated March 9.

On March 16, guest lecturer Shelley Bonus will present “Neutron Stars, Colliding Black Holes and Gravitational Waves,” a review of the cutting-edge discoveries in gravitational wave astronomy.

The new field, which explores the minute distortions of spacetime predicted by Einstein's theory of general relativity, was made possible by the first detection of gravity waves in 2015 by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO).

Neutron Star Core
The dense, core remains of an exploded star at least eight times more massive than the Sun

The observatory "provides information about the universe not obtainable by any previous type of scientific tool," organizers said.

On March 23, three days after this year's spring equinox, the planetarium will present “TILT! Equinoxes and Solstices Explained.”

"Most city dwellers are only vaguely aware of what the equinoxes and solstices actually are," event organizers said. "The Digistar planetarium projector and other imagery will be used to try to remedy this disconnect from the natural world."

One of the myths explored in the show is that eggs can be balanced on their ends during the equinox, the day the Sun shines directly on the equator making the length of day and night nearly equal.

Next month's shows end March 30, when gust lecturer Bonus returns with “What’s Your Zodiac Sign and Why? Astronomy/Astrology Myths and Facts.”

Bonus, organizers said, "will offer her lively take on the relationship between astronomy and astrology, two once-synonymous, but now-sundered ways of looking at the sky."

The John Drescher Planetarium, which features a Digistar projection system, is located near the elevators on the second floor of Drescher Hall, 1900 Pico Boulevard.

Tickets are available at the door and cost $11 ($9 seniors and children) for the evening’s scheduled “double bill," or $6 ($5 seniors age 60 and older and children age 12 and under) for a single show or telescope-viewing session.

For more information call (310) 434-3005 or visit www.smc.edu/planetarium. All shows are subject to change or cancellation without notice.

 


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