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SMC Planetarium Explores the Winter Sky and the Theory of Relativity
By Jorge Casuso
February 15, 2022 -- An 18th-century comet hunter, a look at the winter sky and understanding Einstein’s theory of relativity without using math.
Those are among the topics explored during free, virtual lectures at Santa Monica College’s (SMC) John Drescher Planetarium next month.
The shows 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.
The series kicks off March 4 with "A Walk Around the Winter Hexagon” presented by Senior Lecturer Jim Mahon, who will explore the winter sky and "the bounty of bright stars surrounding its signature constellation, Orion the Hunter."
"Embedded in the Sword of Orion is the mighty Orion Nebula, the large area of star formation closest to the solar system," organizers said.
Using the Stellarium planetarium freeware, the show will "visit" the “Winter Hexagon” -- the elongated circlet of bright stars around Orion composed of "a rich collection of clusters, nebulae, and bright stars."
On Friday, March 11, Mahon will present “A Virtual Marathon,” which introduces lecture goers to French 18th-century comet hunter Charles Messier, who compiled a list of nuisances that "became a catalog of the brightest galaxies, star clusters, and nebulae in the northern sky."
In March and April, it is possible to view all of them between dusk and dawn of a single night," organizers said.
Using the freeware, the show presents "an enjoyable time-compressed simulation of that bit of observing insanity -- known today as a "Messier Marathon."
On Friday, March 18, Mahon and Associate Lecturer Sarah Vincent present "Relativity 101,” which offers "a non-mathematical explanation of the basics of Albert Einstein’s world-bending theories."
"More than 117 years after the then-unknown physicist published his first groundbreaking paper, most of the world still struggles to understand the basics of his theories," organizers said.
Next month's lineup concludes on March 25 with "Exoplanets and How We Find Them,” in which Vincent explains how astronomers have located 4,400 currently known planets, almost all of them in the Milky Way.
The first detection of an exoplanet in 1988 intensified interest in finding planets that orbit in a star's "habitable zone," making it conducive to supporting extraterrestrial life.
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 zoom.com.
"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 smc.edu/planetarium or by calling 310-434-3005. Shows are subject to change or cancellation without notice.
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