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Santa Monica College Planetarium Explores Mars Probes, Upcoming Meteor Shower During Free Virtual Shows

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By Lookout Staff

July 16, 2020 -- Santa Monica College’s John Drescher Planetarium will probe three missions to Mars during a free, live virtual show this Friday.

The show -- presented online at -- is part of the planetarium's Friday evening events that include two shows this month focuing on the Perseid Meteor Shower.

"The planetarium is exploring a variety of ways to present its shows while the Santa Monica College (SMC) campuses are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic," planetarium officials said.

Perseid Meteor Shower
Photo by Matthew Dieterich courtesy of National Park Foundation

Friday's show -- “Mars 2020 Rover, Tianwen 1, and the Hope Probe” -- focuses on the next round of Mars probes being launched this month by NASA, China and the United Arab Emirates.

"The show will explore the mission launch windows, their journeys to the Red Planet and their projected landing sites," Planetarium officiaals said.

Senior Lecturer Jim Mahon and Associate Lecturer Sarah Vincent "will also cover the instruments these roving and stationary laboratories carry on board."

The NASA and China mission will search for evidence of both current and past life on the "Red Planet" and assess the planet's environment

The NASA mission "takes the next step by not only seeking signs of habitable conditions on Mars in the ancient past, but also searching for signs of past microbial life itself," agency officials said.

The Emirates Hope Probe will explore why the planet's atmosphere is losing hydrogen and oxygen into space and the reason for its drastic climate changes.

On Friday, July 24 and 31, the planetarium presents “The Meteors of Summer: The Perseid Shower of August 2020.”

The show discusses the nature of these “falling stars” and provides tips for getting the best views of the showers, which will peak on August 12.

This year’s shower will have some interference from a late-rising crescent Moon, "but a trip away from city lights should still be a rewarding one for those willing to stay up after midnight for the peak of activity," officials said.

In "outburst years," the rate of falling meteors can reach between 150 and 200 per hour, according to astronomers.

The Perseids -- which were named because they appear to emanate from the constellation Perseus -- are associated with the comet Swift–Tuttle.

The comet travels on a 133-year orbit ejecting particles that have been part of its cloud for more than 1,000 years.

The evening shows are at 8 p.m. and are preceded by a streamlined, virtual digest of the popular Night Sky Show at 7 p.m., offering the latest news in astronomy and space exploration and the chance to ask astronomy-related questions.

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

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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