By Lookout Staff
November 15, 2023 -- Non-Western celestial worlds, the Winter Solstice and bodies in outer space will be the topics of lectures next month at the Santa Monica College Planetarium.
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.
Next month's lineup kicks off December 1 with “Human Bodies in Space -- What We Know So Far” presented by lecturer Sarah Vincent.
"Every human was born in Earth’s gravity," event organizers said, "but just under 700 humans have ever gone beyond Earth’s atmosphere, and only 24 humans have gone beyond the protection of Earth’s magnetic radiation shield."
The show explores how the human body reacts to "the harsh reality of living in space" as NASA’s Artemis mission prepares to establish long-term habitation on the Moon.
On Friday, December 8, Vincent presents “Winter Sky: Non-Western Constellations,” a look at "some of the rich non-Western celestial worlds," organizers said.
"European explorers brought with them the sky stories of Zeus, Orion, and Perseus, and those stories have all but erased the legacies of other cultures. But many cultures are working to preserve their astronomical histories."
On Friday, December 15, Vincent will present the holiday staple “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."
Planetarium lecturers are currently using the Zoom platform to present shows while SMC’s new planetarium and observatory are under construction.
To attend the virtual shows, the Zoom software 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.