SMC Planetarium explores exoplanets and spaceflight

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By supervisory staff

January 26, 2022 — The John Drescher Planetarium at Santa Monica College will explore the search for planets beyond our solar system in a virtual live broadcast next month.

The Planetarium will also present a show that looks at the latest developments in manned spaceflight focusing on three major projects.

Artist’s impression (not to scale) of how often planets orbit stars in the Milky Way (Courtesy of European Southern Observatory (ESO))

The free shows take place Fridays at 8 p.m. and are preceded by a simplified virtual roundup of the popular Night Sky Show at 7 p.m. that offers the latest in astronomy and space exploration.

Next Friday, February 4, Associate Lecturer Sarah Vincent will present “Exoplanets and How We Find Them,” which explains how astronomers have located 4,400 currently known planets, nearly all of them in the Milky Way.

Known exoplanets range from the least massive – about twice the size of the moon – to the most massive, about 30 times the mass of Jupiter, so massive it could be a dwarf star instead.

The time it can take for an exoplanet to orbit its star also varies widely, from hours to thousands of years, according to astronomers.

The first detection of an exoplanet in 1988 intensified interest in the search for planets orbiting in a star’s “habitable zone”, making it suitable for extraterrestrial life.

SMC’s show will discuss “missions and methods used to discover planets beyond the solar system,” event organizers said.

On Friday February 18 and 25, lecturer Jim Mahon presents “2022 Human Space Flight Preview”.

The show focuses on “the flight of SLS/Orion on the shakedown of Artemis 1” and “the expansion of the Chinese space station, the first commercial SpaceX Dragon mission to the International Space Station”.

It also examines “Boeing’s delayed second attempt at a Starliner test flight to the ISS,” organizers said. These three projects “are just a few examples of this year’s kaleidoscope of manned spaceflight developments.”

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

“Shows include the opportunity to chat with planetarium speakers 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 may be changed or canceled without notice.

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