Saturday, June 7, 2008

Planetarium Show

Last night's South Bay Astronomical Society's meeting was another winner. The club meets in the small planetarium at El Camino College, a junior college in Torrance. I didn't realize it, but having such a planetarium on a college campus, let alone a junior college, is a rare treat. Apparently California leads the way in this regard and last night we got to see the planetarium in action.

The planetarium has a 30-foot dome with a $400,000.00 projector made by Goto of Japan (in case you were thinking of buying one of your very own) that was installed in 2005. It is called the Chronos Space Simulator and let me say that it does just that. Leaning back in the not so comfortable office chairs and gazing up at the dome, you could easily convince yourself you were looking at the night sky, except for the Exit signs glaring on the left and right. The projector can be programmed for just about anything and last night's operator, astronomy professor Perry Hacking, chose to show us the night sky as we see it now in order to point out what interesting things we might go look for with our own telescopes. Of course, this was a sky without any light pollution and he could also turn off the moon and the sun to give us the best possible viewing conditions.

Makes one want to get out there and do some viewing.

The evening began with a short lecture by one of our members, Michael Harrison, who is taking Hacking's Astronomy 13 class on how to make your own telescope. Harrison is an astrophysicist who works in the space industry here in Southern California. We are so fortunate to have such knowledgeable people as regular members of our club. But even though he was trained at MIT as an astrophysicist, he had never looked through a telescope which is why he joined our club. After coming to our observing sessions and watching us struggle with setting up our scopes (some of the members have very large scopes that require two people to set up), he decided to take up Hacking's challenge that anyone could make a telescope with better optics than what you can buy. He also wanted to build a scope that would easily fit in the back of his car. He built a six-inch Newtonian scope that disassembles for portability and the first time he used it, he managed to see the International Space Station transit the moon!

Makes one want to go out, buy a mirror blank, and sign up for the course.

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