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SMC Planetarium Focuses on Long Delayed Missions and the Winter Solstice

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By Lookout Staff

December 3, 2021 -- The Santa Monica College Planetarium will present shows this month that focus on two long-awaited launches and on the ancient observances of the Winter Solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the year.

The free, live virtual shows at SMC's John Drescher Planetarium take place Fridays at 8 p.m. and are preceded by a streamlined, virtual digest of the popular Night Sky Show at 7 p.m. that offers the latest news in astronomy and space exploration.

This Friday, Senior Lecturer Jim Mahon presents “Artemis 1 Preview,” an update of the long-delayed launch of NASA's Project Artemis, which has been rescheduled yet again.

The launch of the SLS booster and Orion spacecraft "on an uncrewed test flight into lunar orbit and back to Earth" rescheduled for this month has been pushed back to February.

The show presents "an update on the long-delayed first flight of the system to send humans back to the Moon -- and beyond," event organizers said.

On Friday, December 10, Mahon presents the “James Webb Space Telescope Pre-Launch Updates," which provides the latest information on the long-awaited launch of the telescope by NASA and the European Space Agency.

The show will review the progress and status of the "possibly optimistic" December 18 launch date and "take a look at Webb’s science objectives," organizers said.

It also will "review the multi-week nail-biter that will be the remote deployment of this massive instrument, far from any possibility of human servicing."

On Friday, December 17, Mahon will present “A Winter’s Solstice," which explores the annual phenomenon marked by festivals and rituals that takes place December 21, the first day of winter.

Known as midwinter, it is the shortest day and longest night of the year, the day when the sun reaches its lowest point in the sky and is reborn.

The feature show "examines the history of various ancient observances of the Winter Solstice, and how they have evolved and melded with our later Judeo-Christian holidays," planetarium officials said.

For the pagans, Persians, Romans, Christians and other cultures around the world, the Winter Solstice marks a turning point in the year.

"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."

In northern Europe, the solstice was celebrated as a holiday called "Yule," which would take a more modern form in such popular traditions as the Christmas tree, the Christmas wreath and the Yule log.

The show also reviews the science that might explain the star mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew that appeared above Bethlehem the night Jesus was born.

In the Gospel story, the three Wise Men, or Magi, journey to Jerusalem to worship the infant Jesus by following the star.

The show "takes a look at a re-creation of the remarkable planetary conjunction in 2 BCE that is a leading candidate for a scientific explanation of the Star of Bethlehem."

Currently, the planetarium is using the Zoom platform. To attend the shows, the Zoom software version 5.0 or higher must be installed on the viewer’s computer. A free download is available at

"The shows include the chance to chat with the planetarium lecturers and ask questions related to astronomy and space exploration," planetarium officials said.

More information is available online at or by calling 310-434-3005. Shows are subject to change or cancellation without notice.

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